The Public Good Newsfeed – October 26, 2016: California Takes on Big Pharma, South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment, and more…

by David Morris | October 26, 2016 9:32 am

placeholderA selection of recent news stories with an ILSR insight into “The Public Good.”

Stories in this Newsfeed:

California Takes on Big Pharma[1] | South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment[2] | New Mexico Takes on Debtors’ Prisons[3]

17California Takes on Big Pharma

This November, Californians will vote on a ballot initiative that, according to Pharma Exec[4] magazine, “would shake the rafters of every single state drug program in the nation, as well as the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs.”

Proposition 61[5] requires that state agencies pay no more for any prescription drug than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the same drug. It would apply to more than 1 million state and public university employees as well as 3 million Medicaid patients (although it would exclude 10 million Californians on managed care Medicaid plans.)

The impact could be even broader.  Federal law entitles all state Medicaid programs to the lowest prescription drug prices available to most public and private payers in the U.S., excluding the VA.  Medicaid discounts ordinarily are in the 20 percent range, but VA discounts[6] can be as high as 42 percent.  The California measure could extend the VA’s significant  discounts to health programs serving tens of millions of additional people nationwide.

As of October 20, pharmaceutical companies have spent more than $109 million to defeat the measure compared to just $15 million for supporters.  Nevertheless, as of two weeks before the election, it appeared well on the way to victory.

The pricing of drugs has become a national disgrace.  Horror stories are an almost every day occurrence. Turing Pharmaceuticals purchases the rights to a generic AIDS  drug  and promptly raises its price from $13.50 to $750 a pill.  In fact, in 222 generic drug groups, prices increased by 100 percent or more between 2013 and 2014, according to Forbes[7]. Specialty drugs have become astronomically expensive. Medivation’s prostate cancer drug Xtandi costs $129,000 a treatment. Reuters[8] reports that in 2014, 139,000 Americans had medication costs in excess of $100,000, nearly triple the number who reached that mark a year earlier.

The pharmaceutical industry’s median return on assets is more than double that of the rest of the Fortune 500, according[9] to Alfred Engelberg.  The industry is awash in cash.  Pfizer holds $74 billion in un-repatriated profits overseas and Merck holds $60 billion, enough to fund their respective annual research budgets for l0 years.

While the industry reaps the benefits, the taxpayer bears much of the cost. Some calculate that direct and indirect government support is such that private industry pays[10] only about a third of R&D costs and much of that goes to develop drugs that offer cosmetic or minor improvements.  The Washington Post[11] reports that while government foots the bill for development, drug companies focus on marketing, often spending $2 for marketing for every $1 spent on research.

Despite repeated scandals, the federal government has been unwilling or uninterested in stepping in.   Congress specifically prohibits Medicare from negotiating with the drug companies for price discounts.  Federal law allows the government to unilaterally lower the price of drugs developed with government funds but has refused to do so.  It can also allow less expensive but has refused to that either.   State governments have largely refused to intervene either.

Which leaves it up to the people to assert their authority, where they are able, to put the issue directly to the voters.  That’s what Californians have done.

19South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment

On November 8th South Dakotans will vote on three initiatives which, if taken together, could change the face of state politics.

Amendment V[12] converts all state elections into nonpartisan contests. There would be no Democrat or Republican primaries. The top two finishers in the first round of voting would face off in the general election. California, Louisiana and Washington have similar run-off systems but in those states candidates still run with a party label.  That would be prohibited in South Dakota, making it the only state apart from Nebraska to have purely non-partisan elections. (Nebraska had its own political revolution in 1934 when its citizens voted[13] not only for nonpartisan elections but the nation’s first and only unicameral legislature.)

Amendment T[14] creates a commission to redraw state legislative districts every ten years when a new census comes out.  Ordinarily this redistricting is done by legislators themselves but as Matt Sibley, one of the organizers for this initiative, told[15] Governing Magazine,  “There is an inherent flaw in the system when legislators are picking out there own legislative districts.” In-house redistricting often results in a number of uncontested legislative races, diminishing the value of the franchise for those living in that district. The new commission would be barred from considering the party affiliation of voters and location of incumbent lawmakers when drawing new maps. 

Measure 22[16] is the most complex of the three initiatives, requiring as many as 70 changes to election law.  The key is the distribution of two $50 “Democracy Credits” to each registered voter which they could then donate to state legislative candidates who agree to participate in at least three public debates and cap the amount of private money they receive per contributor. Democracy Credits, or Democracy Vouchers as they are sometimes called were first adopted in 2015 by initiative by Seattle voters. (Washingtonians are also voting in November on Initiative 1464[17], which would give every registered voter three Democracy Credits of $50, which they could then donate to state legislative candidates who agree to certain conditions.)

18New Mexico Takes on Debtors’ Prisons

In November, New Mexico will become the first state to decide on whether to directly address a justice system that forces defendants who cannot pay bail to stay in jail.

In 1987 the Supreme Court declared[18], “In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.”   Nevertheless, in most of America, lower-income people who have been arrested and can’t afford bail sit in jail for weeks, months, even years before seeing a judge. Their involuntary incarceration can result in lost jobs and income and increased family stress which raises the likelihood they will reoffend.

Ninety-five percent of the growth in the jail population since 2000 is attributed to an increase in pretrial detainees, Christopher Moraff reports in Next City[19], according to the Department of Justice. Nationwide, according to a Harvard Law School report, 34 percent of defendants are kept in jail pretrial solely[20] because they are unable to pay a cash bond, and most of these people are among the poorest third of Americans.  National data from local jails in 2011 showed that 60% of jail inmates were pretrial detainees and that 75% of those detainees were charged with property, drug or other nonviolent offenses.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice[21], the average number of days that people stay in jail awaiting trial has increased from 14 days in 1983 to 23 days in 2013.

The perverse and unjust consequences of bail have begun to receive national attention as part of the larger issue of the revival of debtor’s prisons[22].  In March the Justice Department sent a letter[23] to judges advising them that employing “bail or bond practices that cause indigent defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release” violates the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection.

In September 2015 Equal Justice Under Law[24] and the Southern Center for Human Rights[25] filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Calhoun, Georgia for their practice of requiring bail for indigent defendants. The case involved a disabled man who was jailed for six days because he couldn’t afford to pay a $160 fixed cash bail bond. “Hundreds of thousands of human beings are held in American cages every night solely because they are too poor to make a payment,” Alec Karakatsanis, co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law told the Huffington Post[26].  In January the District Court ruled[27] in their favor, issuing an injunction against the city of Calhoun, ordering it to implement a new bail scheme and release any misdemeanor arrestees in the meantime.

The city has appealed arguing “the Constitution does not guarantee bail, it only bans excessive bail.”

In August the Department of Justice, for the first time submitted an amicus brief[28] on the subject of bail to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Some jurisdictions have begun to change their pretrial release policies so that danger to the community and likelihood of flight are the main factors to determine pretrial release, not whether the accused can pay bail. In a New York City pilot program[29], 1,100 people were granted supervised relief; 87 percent showed up to court when required without incident.  From July 2013 to December 2014, Mesa County, Colorado was able to reduce[30] its pretrial jail population by 27 percent without negative consequences for public safety.

Washington, D.C. has run an essentially cashless[31] justice system for those accused of misdemeanors for many years. Nearly 88 percent of defendants in D.C. are released with non-financial conditions. Between 2007 and 2012, 90 percent of released defendants made all scheduled court appearances; over 91 percent were not rearrested while in the community before trial.  Ninety-nine percent were not rearrested for a violent crime.

The New Mexico initiative originated with a murder case in which the defendant, remained in jail for more than two years without going to trial even though he agreed to wear a GPS device, make regular contact with the court and was not considered a danger to the community or likely to flee. Not only did the state Supreme Court rule[32] in favor of the defendant, it formed a task force that recommended[33] an amendment to the “right to bail” provision in the New Mexico constitution.

Constitutional Amendment 1[34] is a legislatively referred initiative with bipartisan support.  No group is campaigning against it.  Perhaps because it is a result of legislative action, it reflects the give and take of the legislative process.  Thus the Amendment also gives judges more discretion to keep dangerous people in jail — even if they can afford bail. A study[35] from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation shows that nearly half of the highest-risk defendants are released pending trial while low-risk, non-violent defendants are frequently detained.

Perhaps more important, negotiations have resulted in final language more opaque than the original.  Originally the Amendment was clearly and directly stated: “A person who is not a danger and is otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond.”  The final language reads, “A defendant who is neither a danger nor a flight risk and who has a financial inability to post a money or property bond may file a motion with the court requesting relief from the requirement to post bond. The court shall rule on the motion in an expedited manner.”

Some worry the additional conditions might raise barriers to achieving the objective of the initiative.  But most are optimistic that the New Mexico law will break new ground in efforts to eliminate a debtors prison in the United States. New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles W. Daniels, a prime mover behind the initiative contends[36], “There is nothing I’ve done or will do on the court that is going to be a more important improvement of justice than getting this amendment passed.”

Sign-up for our monthly Public Good Newsletter[37] and follow ILSR on Twitter[38] and Facebook[39].

  1. California Takes on Big Pharma: #CA
  2. South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment: #SD
  3. New Mexico Takes on Debtors’ Prisons: #NM
  4. Pharma Exec:
  5. Proposition 61:,_Drug_Price_Standards_(2016)
  6. discounts:
  7. according to Forbes:
  8. Reuters:
  9. according:
  10. pays:
  11. Washington Post:
  12. Amendment V:,_Constitutional_Amendment_V_(2016)
  13. voted:
  14. Amendment T:,_Constitutional_Amendment_T_(2016)
  15. told:
  16. Measure 22:,_Initiated_Measure_22_(2016)
  17. Initiative 1464:,_Initiative_1464_(2016)
  18. declared:
  19. Next City:
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  21. Vera Institute of Justice:
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  24. Equal Justice Under Law:
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  26. Huffington Post:
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  34. Constitutional Amendment 1:,_Constitutional_Amendment_1_(2016
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Energy Policies on the 2016 Ballot, Two Weeks Out

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 20, 2016 5:00 pm

This is an update of analysis done back in June, state-by-state information has been updated, however, conclusions have largely been left the same, see the original post here[1].

Citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives frequently demand progress on renewable energy implementation (and have for years[2]), oftentimes these occur when state legislatures show little to no political will to increase locally-owned solar or wind energy. In 2016, more states than ever before have attempted to place items on their ballots to change the energy landscape. Sponsored by citizen groups, legislators, and (sometimes) energy industry giants, these initiatives range from encouraging energy choice to placing further limits on the propagation of nuclear energy.

A number of these efforts, particularly those in Florida and Nevada, are the results of unresponsive legislatures and Public Utilities Commissions (PUC), tied down by powerful utility monopolies (where competing initiatives sponsored by the powerful industry incumbents).

The Nevada PUC, for example, completely eliminated net metering benefits[3] for its residents – even refusing to grandfather existing solar projects. This PUC action, at the behest of the utility, Warren Buffet’s NV Energy, motivated citizens of Nevada to propose the Nevada Energy Choice Amendment[4] as well as the Nevada Solar Rate Restoration Referendum[5]. The former would ensure energy market competition and the latter would repeal fixed fees for solar customers (more detail on these and other initiatives is below).

The following map highlights the 12 states with proposed or implemented ballot initiatives in 2016.

Many of these initiatives did not make the ballot in November, but they represent efforts of citizens to reclaim control over an energy system long dominated by powerful private interests.

The following is a list of the initiatives under consideration, by state.


Jump down to Arizona[7], California[8], Colorado[9], Florida[10], Massachusetts[11], Missouri[12], Montana[13], Nevada[14], Ohio[15], Oregon[16] & Washington[17].


Ballot Initiatives Map - Version 2.005[18]The state of Arizona had two proposed initiatives for the 2016 ballot. Both initiatives were withdrawn[19] by their respective parties after an agreement materialized in the Arizona state legislature. Neither initiative seems to be poised for reintroduction in the future.

Net Metering Amendment

The first proposed initiative[20] would have amended the state constitution to “require energy companies to compensate solar users who generate excess power at the same price that the company charges to its customers,” enshrining net metering in the state constitution. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) supported this initiative and it was a solar industry-friendly amendment which prompted a response embodied in the Solar for All Act.

Solar for All Act

The second proposed initiative is a direct refutation[21] of the Net Metering Amendment above, introduced in the state legislature after the first initiative was approved. The initiative “would mandate that solar customers be placed on rate plans that are different from traditional customers and their rates be ‘reasonably based’ on the cost to serve them.” 



[22]The state of California had two proposed initiatives for the 2016 ballot. Neither initiative gained enough signatures to be considered, but could be considered in the future.

California Nuclear Power Initiative  √

The first initiative[23] expands state regulations on nuclear power plants. The official ballot language requires that a nuclear power plant “has approved technology for permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste” and requires the California Energy Commission to “find on case-by-case basis facilities…with adequate capacity to reprocess power plant’s fuel rods.”

With the frequent[24] cost overruns[25] of nuclear power plants, it seems hard to believe that additional regulation would be required to prevent new construction. This initiative may instead be intended to reduce the economic incentive to continue operating the power plants without a plan for disposing of nuclear waste. Since the federal government has been studying this issue for decades with no solution, this initiative may effectively shutter existing nuclear power plants.

California Publicly-Owned Electric Utilities Initiative  √

The second ballot initiative[26] intends to replace most investor-owned utilities, including San Diego Gas & Electric, Bear Valley Electric, PG&E and Southern California Edison. The initiative would replace them with the publicly-owned California Electrical Utility District, and divide that district into 11, equally-populated wards. Each one of these wards would have a board member elected to 4-year terms. According to the ballot language[27], the district would have “the power to acquire property, construct facilities necessary to supply electricity, set electricity rates, impose taxes, and issue bonds.”

Municipal utility districts have been at the forefront of clean energy innovation. This includes Denton, TX[28], with an already 40% renewable energy supply, Georgetown, TX[29], with its contracts for 100% renewable energy, as well as little Minster, Ohio, with a solar plus storage system[30]. Of course, local ownership is not sufficient to promote clean energy. One of the largest municipal utilities in the country, serving Los Angeles, has been a laggard in developing renewable energy. But local control would give Californians more power to accelerate the transition to cost-effective, renewable energy.


The state of Colorado had two proposed initiatives on the ballot during the 2016 voting cycle.

Colorado Local Control of Oil & Gas Development Amendment  √

The first initiative[31] “authorizes local governments to prohibit, limit, or impose moratoriums on oil and gas development.” The entities can limit this development in order to protect their “community’s health, safety, welfare, and/or environment.” The initiative also protects communities from state preemption of local laws meant to curtail local impacts from oil and gas development.

State preemption of local laws, as we’ve written previously[32], frequently works directly against community’s energy concerns. Protecting local ordinances limiting the development of oil and gas is vital for empowering communities to make their own decisions against dirty energy.

Colorado Mandatory Setback from Oil & Gas Development Amendment  √

The second initiative[33] would change the Colorado state constitution to require a 2,500-foot setback for any new oil or gas facility from the “nearest occupied structure[34].” It would, potentially significantly, reduce the ability to extract additional fossil fuels in Colorado.


[35]The state of Florida had three proposed initiatives on the ballot in 2016: a utility-sponsored, status quo solar initiative, a citizen initiative shifting the right to produce and sell solar energy, and one renewable energy tax measure on the ballot during the 2016 cycle. The citizen-sponsored initiative did not make the ballot but could be considered in future years.

Right to Produce and Sell Solar Energy Amendment  √

This initiative[36], intended for the 2016 ballot, won’t be up for a vote until at least 2018. If passed, the ballot measure would provide businesses and individuals a “constitutional right to produce up to two megawatts of solar power and sell that power directly to others,” language designed to allow solar energy companies to build systems on customer property and sell the power directly to via a power purchase agreement.

This initiative would overturn Florida’s existing policy of only allowing utilities to sell electricity[37], no matter the source, directly to consumers. The organization Floridians for Solar Choice[38] led the campaign for the ballot initiative and is a coalition of conservative activists, environmental groups, and politicians of all ideological orientations.

Right to Solar Energy Choice Amendment  Χ

The status-quo initiative[39] on the 2016 ballot is a constitutional amendment “giv[ing] residents of Florida the right to own or lease solar energy equipment for personal use.” It offers no new power to customers to procure solar energy through a power purchase agreement and adds new statutory language to allow utilities to attempt to undercut the energy savings from those using solar.

The contributors to Consumers for Smart Solar[40], the committee exclusively tasked with passing this constitutional amendment, counts among its donors[41] mainly investor-owned monopoly utilities, including: Duke Energy[42] and Florida Power and Light Company[43]. Representatives from environmental groups as well as conservative, tea party activists have lambasted the proposal[44] as “claim[ing] to support a free-market principle, but…sides with monopolies to stop competition from solar.”

Special note: Recent investigations have revealed[45] that monopoly electric utilities deliberately mis-led Florida voters by selling this amendment as friendly to local ownership of solar energy, despite this not being factually accurate.

Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Measure  √

The second constitutional amendment[46] on the ballot this year in Florida would “provide tax exemptions for solar power and other renewable energy equipment included in home values for property taxes.” Previous research has shown that residential property values rise about 1% for each kilowatt of solar installed[47]. The tax exemptions would begin 2018 and continue for 20 years. This measure was approved by a margin of 73%-27%[48] by Florida voters on Primary Election Day on August 30th, 2016. 



Ballot Initiatives Map - Version 2.012[49]Wind Energy Act Repeal and Amendment Χ

This proposed initiative expired for the 2016 election year, however, it could be on the ballot in 2017. The Energy Act Repeal and Amendment would remove[50] specific targets for wind energy development and remove the expedited process implemented for utility-scale wind projects. In any new wind project, new criteria would have to be met and each would have to “receive a public benefit determination from the Commissioner of Environmental Protection.”


The state of Massachusetts had two proposed energy initiatives on the ballot during the 2016 election cycle.

Renewable Energy Initiative  √

This ballot initiative[51] would have required electricity suppliers to increase the minimum electricity generated by renewable energy generating sources by 1% every year until 2019, 2% every year until 2029, and 3% each year starting in 2030.

By requiring electricity suppliers to gradually and continually increase their percentage of renewable energy each year, Massachusetts is making a commitment that 70% of the energy load be met with renewable energy by 2040.

Solar and Renewable Energy Initiative  √

The initiative would[52] have “establish[ed] a Commonwealth Solar Program.” By 2025, 10% of all retail electricity sales would be coming from community-shared solar or commercial community-shared solar facilities. It would also change net metering by “remov[ing] existing limits on available capacity eligible for net-metering facilities within each electric distribution company service territory.”

Removing net metering caps and requiring substantial sales from community-shared solar would dramatically expand solar power capacity in Massachusetts.


This initiative did not gain enough signatures to make it onto the 2016 ballot but still could be on the 2017 election ballot.

[53]Missouri Enhanced Net Metering and Easy Connection Act  √

This ballot initiative[54] would require municipal electric utilities and electric corporations to “make net metering available” to a greater number of customers and increase the amount of net metering capacity available to customers. While there are a number of different versions gathering signatures across the state, the features they hold in common is to remove any interconnection fees for customers utilizing net metering, as well as ensuring customer-generators are compensated at a standardized rate across the state.


Renewable Energy Initiative I-180  √

This ballot initiative[55] would have required the state of Montana to incrementally supply more of their electricity (80% by 2050) from renewable energy sources, specifically wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric. The measure “would also establish a program for displaced fossil fuel workers and a pension program for fossil fuel workers.” The initiative is important to a state that has yet to establish a renewable energy standard through the legislature. It also caps program costs and provides a safety net for fossil fuel energy workers via retraining programs and pension safety nets, funding with a tax on each kilowatt of electricity produced.

These measures are ambitious but “are necessary”[56] to combat CO2 emissions.


Nevada 2016 Energy Ballot InitiativesThe state of Nevada has one proposed, one implemented energy related initiatives on the ballot for the 2016 voting cycle.

Nevada Energy Choice Amendment  √

The first ballot initiative[57] would “make it the policy of the state that electricity markets be open and competitive and minimize the regulatory burden in the electric energy market.” The initiative seeks to end the monopoly of utility company NV Energy.

Like the following one, this ballot initiative arose from the controversial end of net metering in the state by NV Energy-backed public utilities commissioners, which led  multiple solar development companies, such as SolarCity, to pull out of the state. The initiative’s intention[58] is gain “meaningful choices among different providers” and to minimize the “economic and regulatory burdens…in order to promote competition and choice in the electric energy market.” It’s a direct shot at the monopoly power of NV Energy.

Nevada Solar Rate Restoration Referendum  √

The second ballot initiative[59] for Nevada is more typical, and targeted a repeal of a section of Senate Bill 374 that “established a fixed fee for solar customers that differed from the fixed fee for other ratepayers.” The initiative would have removed the discrimination in pricing on solar customers that reduces the value of the net metering program.

As we’ve reported,[60] fixed fees are a way that monopoly electric utilities pass fees onto customers and discourage lower energy use via energy efficiency or on-site power generation.


Ohio Clean Energy Initiative  √

The ballot initiative outlined[61] a $14 billion dollar energy program that includes research for alternative energy development and infrastructure projects, spending $1.3 billion per year to develop wind, solar, and geothermal projects. This measure “would create an Ohio Energy Initiative Commission, which would receive $65 million each year and take part in infrastructure capital improvement projects with counties, municipal corporations, townships, and governmental entities.”

With renewable energy investment stonewalled[62] in the Ohio legislature, this initiative would allow renewable energy projects to move forward in The Buckeye State.


Oregon Fossil Fuel Expansion Ban Initiative  √

This ballot initiative[63] would have “ban[ned] the expansion of infrastructure related to fossil fuel extraction, processing, shipment, transportation, or distribution in Oregon.” This initiative has been labeled The Clean Economy Initiative and, while it doesn’t directly expand renewable energy resources, it does shift the impetus towards clean energy development and against fossil fuels.

This initiative attacks any expansion[64] of fossil fuel development to the benefit of cleaner energy.


Ballot Initiatives Map[65]Carbon Emission Tax √

This ballot initiative[66] would impose a tax on “the sale or use of certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity, at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide in 2017, and increasing gradually.” By placing economic incentives to move towards carbon-free and renewable energy, the state of Washington is encouraging further development of renewable energy technology.

The organization Carbon Washington[67] sponsored this initiative.

Editor’s Note: The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy of Washington state was originally reported as being in favor of the Carbon Emission Tax, this was in error and that section has been changed to reflect it.

This article originally posted at[68]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[69] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[70] update.

Image Credit: Tom Arthur from Wikimedia Commons[71] via CC BY-SA 2.0[72]

  1. see the original post here:
  2. for years:
  3. completely eliminated net metering benefits:
  4. Nevada Energy Choice Amendment:
  5. Nevada Solar Rate Restoration Referendum:
  6. [Image]:
  7. Arizona: #Arizona
  8. California: #California
  9. Colorado: #Colorado
  10. Florida: #Florida
  11. Massachusetts: #Massachusetts
  12. Missouri: #Missouri
  13. Montana: #Montana
  14. Nevada: #Nevada
  15. Ohio: #Ohio
  16. Oregon: #Oregon
  17. Washington: #Washington
  18. [Image]:
  19. were withdrawn:
  20. first proposed initiative:
  21. direct refutation:
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  26. second ballot initiative:
  27. According to the ballot language:
  28. Denton, TX:
  29. Georgetown, TX:
  30. solar plus storage system:
  31. first initiative:
  32. as we’ve written previously:
  33. second initiative:
  34. nearest occupied structure:
  35. [Image]:
  36. This initiative:
  37. only allowing utilities to sell electricity:
  38. Floridians for Solar Choice:
  39. status-quo initiative:,_Amendment_1_(2016)
  40. Consumers for Smart Solar:
  41. counts among its donors:,_Amendment_1_(2016)
  42. Duke Energy:
  43. Florida Power and Light Company:
  44. lambasted the proposal:
  45. investigations have revealed:
  46. second constitutional amendment:,_Amendment_4_(August_2016)
  47. residential property values rise about 1% for each kilowatt of solar installed:
  48. margin of 73%-27%:
  49. [Image]:
  50. would remove:
  51. ballot initiative:
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  55. ballot initiative:,_I-180_(2016)
  56. “are necessary”:
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  62. stonewalled:
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  64. attacks any expansion:
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  67. Carbon Washington:
  69. Twitter:
  70. Energy Democracy weekly:
  71. Tom Arthur from Wikimedia Commons:
  72. CC BY-SA 2.0:

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Energy Democracy: Customer Control over Renewable Energy – Episode 3 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 20, 2016 12:00 pm

Welcome to the third episode of the Building Local Power podcast[1].

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews John Farrell, the director of our Energy Democracy initiative about the concept of energy democracy and about his latest report, Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?[2] John specifically outlines some of the key concepts that make up the principles of energy democracy and how locally-owned renewable energy continues to shape our electric grid in new and exciting ways.

“We have traditionally had these large companies produce energy for us and our role is that we are simply customers,” says Farrell, “What’s really been happening in recent years is that we’re seeing a transition in the rules of the system…and that citizens want a bigger say over the [electric] system and their energy future.”


For more information on John’s work, follow John Farrell on Twitter[9] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[10] update and read his latest report: Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?[2] and see more fantastic charts like the one below.

Solar Competes at Most Sizes[11]

If you missed the first couple episodes of our podcast you can find those conversations with Olivia LaVecchia here[12] and Neil Seldman here[13], also to see all of our episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [14]Podcast Homepage[15].

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[16] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[17] license.

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?:
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  14. Building Local Power :
  15. Podcast Homepage:
  16. Funk Interlude:
  17. Attribution Noncommercial (3.0):

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Report: Sparking Grid Savings Starts at Home

by John Farrell | October 12, 2016 6:00 am



Download the Report[1]


Browse the Report

Big Potential Savings
    Peak Reduction from Commercial Buildings
    Peak Reduction from Homes
Deepening of Peak Energy Reduction in Homes
Powerful Examples
Automated or No?


In the past decade, two major trends have threatened the ability of electric utilities to meet the needs of the electricity system. The first is that national electricity sales have flattened, a reversal of nearly 100 years of constant growth, while peak energy use has continued to climb. In other words, at certain moments each year, the grid is strained to capacity by the simultaneous electric use of all customers. Traditionally, utilities have built new power plants to accommodate these moments of intense use. But now utilities can’t recover the costs of these power plants as effectively, as more efficient appliances and lighting lower the total amount of energy sold annually. The chart below shows the remarkable reversal of this trend.

Flattening Electricity Consumption per Capita (U.S.)

The second challenging trend is a need for flexibility. Wind and solar energy production are growing, and utilities have traditionally focused on flexible supply rather than demand. Now, utilities need low-cost tools to maximize flexibility, such as ways to adjust energy demand, not just supply. The chart below, from the U.S. Energy Information Administration[2], illustrates this need for flexibility on the California electricity grid.

Source: EIA[3]

Source: EIA

xcel-dr-switch[4]Fortunately, there are solutions. For years, utilities have reduced the problem of peak energy demand by controlling customer energy use. Xcel Energy in Minnesota is one of many utilities integrating basic “demand response,” using radio controls (right[5]) on customer air conditioners to cycle them off over 15-minute intervals, reducing grid-wide peak energy consumption. The company’s Savers Switch program[6] can reduce electricity demand by 300 megawatts by controlling the air conditioners of 400,000 residential and commercial customers.

Other utilities are adopting new technology, from smart meters to smart thermostats. These tools allow the utility to price energy based on the time of use and its actual cost, offering customers an incentive to use power when it costs less to deliver and giving the utility more control over energy use.

These programs have just scratched the surface.

New technology, particularly in the hands of electric customers, is creating an unprecedented opportunity to move beyond air conditioners and tap the many other sources of controllable electricity demand in homes and businesses. Utilities, like Xcel, should harness these lower-cost ways to meet rising peak energy demand.


Big Potential Savings

imageedit_83_3656718250Customers empowered with smartphones, smart apps, and smart devices can already adjust their energy use (and lower their costs) in response to the needs of the electricity system. A variety of smart thermostats can be controlled from smartphones, such as the one in the author’s home (right). Customers can restrict when they run appliances or charge electric vehicles to times with low power costs. And in some markets, companies aggregate these empowered customers to lower overall energy demand significantly using “automated demand response.”

Below are a few potent examples of how utilities access available energy resources in homes and businesses when the grid needs more power.

Peak Reduction from Commercial Buildings


Source: Siemens

Five large commercial buildings (100,000 square feet or greater) in the Northwest were selected by researchers from Berkeley Labs to participate in an automated demand response program[8]. The building operators used a number of energy-saving strategies, including pre-heating or -cooling before peak energy periods, cycling off heating/cooling units, and reducing lighting levels.

Over the four winter test periods, buildings averaged a peak demand reduction of 14%, a combined 767 kilowatts. Over four summer test periods, buildings averaged a peak demand reduction of 19%, an average of 338 kilowatts. Electric load reduction was possible even with gas heating systems because of the fans used to distribute heat.

During a Texas grid emergency, 100 retail stores using Siemens automated demand response tools were able to reduce energy use by 21%[9] over 3.5 hours without significantly disrupting customers. The graphic to the left[10] illustrates how the utility sees this demand response.

Peak Reduction from Homes

When it comes to managing residential energy consumption, utilities have used radio-controlled devices for more than two decades, but are just beginning to take advantage of Internet-connected devices or smart appliances.


Think of this as a giant battery.

One historic example comes from Great River Energy, an aggregation of cooperative utilities in Minnesota, which remotely controls over 100,000 water heaters[12], enough to store more than 1 gigawatt-hour of electricity. That’s enough electricity to power 37,000 homes for an entire day. Xcel Energy’s Savers Switch program, mentioned in the introduction, aggregates air conditioners in 400,000 homes and businesses to control 300 megawatts of energy demand.

Some utilities are pushing the envelope with new technology.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric achieved[13] energy use reductions of 2 kilowatts per home in the first year of its smart meter and smart thermostat program. The utility allowed 40,000 volunteer customers to switch to electric rate plans where the price varied based on the demands on the grid. Customers received[14] smart meters and smart thermostats to shift their consumption accordingly. The 70 megawatts of peak power reduction was 50% to 100% more than the utility anticipated. In addition to cost savings for more than 90% of participating customers[15], the utility’s costs of $300 to $400 per home were far less than the cost of adding new peak-time power plant generation to the electricity system.

By its second year, the utility increased residential participation to over 100,000 households with average load reduction of 1.4 kilowatts[16], and by year four, 92% of participating customers saved an average of $140 per summer. The 1.4 kilowatt average load reduction is twice that achieved by Xcel’s Saver’s Switch program.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s smart meter network was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, although Arizona utilities have achieved reliable, if less substantial, results[17] (0.2 kilowatts of peak reduction) with smart thermostats alone. Another 1,000-customer pilot by Energate achieved approximately 1 kilowatt of demand reduction[18] per customer with a Canadian electric utility, a program now slated for expansion.


Deepening of Peak Energy Reduction in Homes

While most programs so far have targeted home comfort (central air conditioning or electric water heating), there are other sources of electricity consumption that remain untouched.

The following table shows numerous power draw estimates for common household appliances whose operation could be time-shifted during periods of high energy draw. Energy savings from dishwashers and clothes washers may already be captured in programs where customers pay more for electricity during peak periods, but refrigerators and window air conditioning units run on their own schedule.

Typical Energy Consumption of Large Household Appliances (Watts)

Data Source:[19] Don Rowe[20] Inverter Company Chabot Space & Science Center[21] Consumer Reports[22] ILSR Estimate
Refrigerator 600 500-750 N/A 725 600
Dishwasher N/A 1,200 1,200-1,500 1,800 1,200
Clothes washer 500-1,000 500 500 425 500
Window A/C units 1,000-1,500 N/A 1,000 1,000 1,000

Using the lower-end estimates for each, we could expect controlling refrigerators to provide around 600 watts, dishwashers 1,200 watts, clothes washers around 500 watts, and room air conditioners around 1,000 watts of power.

Of course, not all these items are available all the time. But the time we most need them is the time of peak energy demand. For this illustration, we’ll use Dakota Electric in Minnesota, a utility with an electricity system that reaches peak use in the summer, between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.

We can probably assume that almost every household (99%) has access to a refrigerator and clothes washer. Dishwashers are in about 75%[23] of American homes, while 91% of Midwest homes have air conditioning[24]. About 22% of air conditioned homes (around 20% of total homes) use window units.

So let’s say a Minnesota utility wanted to manage energy demand in 10,000 homes in Minneapolis. The following table shows how many available appliances the utility would have at its disposal, at a maximum, and the total megawatts of capacity.

Maximum Number of Available Controllable Appliances and Capacity (10,000 households)

Appliance Number Total Megawatts
Refrigerators 9,900 5.94 MW
Dishwashers 7,500 9.00 MW
Clothes washers 9,900 4.96 MW
Window A/C units 2,200 2.20 MW

Of course, just because a customer has the appliance does not mean it would be on. Newer refrigerators use smaller compressors that run 80% to 90% of the time[25]. We’ll assume 80% of refrigerators are available to cycle (about 4.7 MW). Dishwashers are much less certain, with the average dishwasher running just one cycle every 3 days[26]. The wash/dry cycle takes about an hour, so in the 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. timeframe, we can only assume we’ll have 1 in 6 dishwashers running at all (assuming half are running in our peak time window), and only 20% of those available each hour (0.3 MW).1[27] Clothes washers are used more frequently — the average American does 400 loads per year[28], so the typical washer is running 1.1 times per day. We’ll assume half of laundry loads are done between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., and that each individual cycle takes one hour. Thus, in a given hour we would have 11% of washers available to control (0.55 MW). Because we’re talking about peak energy times, it’s probably hot out, so we’ll assume 90% of window A/C units are running the full 5 hours (1.98 MW).

Cycling appliances frequently is bad for the compressor (where applicable), so we’ll assume the utility taps at most 20% of available units each hour to cover the entire peak demand period.

Estimated Available Capacity from Controllable Appliances (10,000 households)

Appliance Number Total Megawatts Total % Available Available Megawatts Available Megawatts per hour (20%)
Refrigerators 9,900 5.94 MW 80% 4.7 MW 0.94 MW
Dishwashers 7,500 9.00 MW 03.3% 0.3 MW 0.06 MW
Clothes washers 9,900 4.96 MW 11% 0.55 MW 0.11 MW
Window A/C units 2,200 2.20 MW 90% 1.98 MW 0.40 MW

We’re left with 1.51 MW of controllable energy demand per 10,000 households. It may seem small, but in a city like Minneapolis with 166,000 households[29], the utility has 25 megawatts of untapped energy supply, or about 4% of total peak energy demand.

So how could Xcel Energy or another utility start capturing this potential?

Powerful Examples

California utility PG&E offers a market-based automated demand response program[30], with payments ranging from $200 to $400 per kilowatt of load reduction. For comparison, the owners of the five buildings participating in the pilot program in the Northwest could have earned a minimum of $153,000 for participation in the PG&E program, in addition to their reduced energy bills. Our hypothetical 10,000 Minneapolis households, if grouped together, could have each earned up to $76 had they been participating in the PG&E program.

SDG&E, also in California, offers a similar automated demand response program with incentives[31] worth up to $300 per kilowatt of demand reduction. While 60% of the incentive depends upon completion of the project and test of its load reduction potential, 40% is based on actual performance during the year.

Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative’s Energy Wise[32] demand response program has automated and manual components. The utility provides a free smart thermostat that allows it to automatically control cooling and heating during peak energy events. The 44% of customers who participate receive a 10% discount on electricity during summer months. In exchange, the utility pre-cools the house by two degrees in the morning, and allows temperatures to rise by up to 4 degrees five to seven times per month.

The cooperative’s program goes further, encouraging customers to form teams to beat the peak. The highest-performing teams can win gift cards and prizes, and are notified of peak energy events via email, text, or phone the day prior.

Orvibo Smart OutletThe good news is that these successful programs don’t require advanced or smart meters, which have yet to replace older meters for 50% to 75% of customers[33] across the country, including all of Xcel Energy’s Minnesota customers. Energate, one of many companies in the “connected home” space, offers utility programs that simply pair smart devices with an Internet connection — no smart meter required[34]. That could be a significant tool in Minneapolis, where, like many other large cities, over 90%[35] of households have access to a wired, broadband Internet connection (and the city has a citywide Wi-Fi provider[36]).

Weather forecast company WeatherBug offers forecasting analytics as a tool to enhance the savings from smart, connected thermostats. In a Texas trial, smart thermostats using the company’s integrated weather analysis were able to increase peak energy savings[37] by 13% per home.

Automation technology is available off the shelf today. The Orvibo smart outlet plug[38] (shown right), for example, lets customers set a schedule or turn the device on and off from anywhere via a wifi connection. There are dozens[39] more choices, many available for less than $50. These devices are compatible with large appliances and could be deployed as part of utility demand response programs.


Automated or No?

Of the four appliances we considered, there are two distinct types. Refrigerators and air conditioners run independently, turning on and off automatically based on their thermostat settings. Interrupting the cycle of a refrigerator or air conditioner is a minimal inconvenience, and can be done remotely without the customer even noticing it’s happening. Central air conditioners are already controlled in this fashion by utilities, but smart outlets could allow utilities to control automatic appliances like refrigerators and window air conditioners, too.

The other kind of appliances—in this case, washers and dishwashers—run manually, typically starting when a human interacts with them. Trying to stop a washer or dishwasher mid-cycle may reset the machine or cause it to fail to complete its task.

In other words, automating demand response may only make sense for the automatic appliances. For appliances run manually, requiring human interface, it may make sense to instead change human behavior. This may be done more effectively by using transparent pricing communicated through talk, text, or social media, as is done in the Energy Wise program. It can be aided by timers built into these appliances, such as dishwashers or clothes washers that can be scheduled to run at a later time.

For manual appliances, there’s also an opportunity to use psychology to obtain savings. Opower[40] has teamed up with many utilities to put smiley or frowny faces on monthly electric bills to motivate customers to use less energy than their neighbors. The strategy has helped reduce energy use, some of which overlaps with peak demand periods.



Homes and businesses represent a large source of manageable energy consumption. Decades-old utility programs enable control of a few major sources of household or business energy use, but much untapped potential remains. In one city, Minneapolis, controlling four major household appliances in homes across the city could reduce peak energy demand by 4%.

Utilities can use commercially available smart technology to allow themselves or their customers to cycle automatic appliances—refrigerators and window air conditioners—and reduce peak energy consumption. Transparent pricing based on the actual costs of electricity can motivate customers to shift the time they use manual appliances such as washers and dishwashers, further reducing peak energy demand.

Electric utilities should explore programs for residential and commercial demand response to access this abundant, low-cost source of peak energy supply.



  1. We’re obviously simplifying dramatically, since there’s likely a bias toward dishwashers or clothes washers running later in the evening for working families, or at different times of day entirely. [Back to text][41]
  1. Download the Report:
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration:
  3. [Image]:
  4. [Image]:
  5. right:
  6. Savers Switch program:
  7. [Image]:
  8. automated demand response program:
  9. reduce energy use by 21%:
  10. graphic to the left:
  11. [Image]:
  12. remotely controls over 100,000 water heaters:
  13. achieved:
  14. received:
  15. cost savings for more than 90% of participating customers:
  16. average load reduction of 1.4 kilowatts:
  17. reliable, if less substantial, results:
  18. 1 kilowatt of demand reduction:
  20. Don Rowe:
  21. Center:
  22. Consumer Reports:
  23. 75%:
  24. have air conditioning:
  25. 80% to 90% of the time:
  26. every 3 days:
  27. 1: #Footnotes
  28. 400 loads per year:
  29. 166,000 households:
  30. automated demand response program:
  31. incentives:
  32. Energy Wise:
  33. 50% to 75% of customers:
  34. no smart meter required:
  35. over 90%:
  36. citywide Wi-Fi provider:
  37. increase peak energy savings:
  38. outlet plug:
  39. dozens:
  40. Opower:
  41. [Back to text]: #Commercial

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ILSR Sponsors the Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum, Scholarship Fund Announced

by Brenda Platt | October 11, 2016 5:03 pm

placeholderIn collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[1], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance announces two events to be held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show[2], COMPOST2017, in Los Angeles:

Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop – 

January 23, 2017

Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2017 –

January 24, 2017

These events will bring together composters to network, share best practices, and build support for community-scale composting systems and enterprises. The Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2017 is the fourth national forum sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle.

Community composters, we invite your participation and input on the agenda! What topics or experts would you most like to hear from? Are you interested in presenting? What are your biggest challenges?

Limited scholarships are available to community composters! Apply by Friday, October 28. We have scholarships up to $500 to help offset COMPOST2017 registration fees, and travel and hotel costs. Community composters are also eligible to receive a waived registration fee (a $350 value) with a commitment to volunteer 8 hours at the conference.





  1. BioCycle:
  2. USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show:
  4. (more…):

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Report: North Carolina Connectivity – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 11, 2016 12:00 pm

North Carolina’s digital divide between urban and rural communities is increasing dangerously in a time when high quality Internet access is more important than ever. Rural and urban areas of North Carolina are essentially living in different realities, based on the tides of private network investment where rural communities are severely disadvantaged. The state has relied too much on the telecom giants like AT&T and CenturyLink that have little interest in rural regions.

Download the Report[1]

The state perversely discourages investment from local governments and cooperatives. For instance, electric co-ops face barriers in seeking federal financing for fiber optic projects. State law is literally requiring the city of Wilson to disconnect its customers in the town of Pinetops, leaving them without basic broadband access. This decision in particular literally took the high-speed, affordable Internet access out of the hands of North Carolina’s rural citizens.

The lengths to which North Carolina has gone to limit Internet access to their citizens is truly staggering. Both a 1999 law limiting electric cooperatives’ access to capital for telecommunications and a 2011 law limiting local governments’ ability to build Internet networks greatly undermine the ability of North Carolinians to increase competition to the powerful cable and DSL incumbent providers.

In the face of this reality, the Governor McCrory’s Broadband Infrastructure Office recommended a “solution” that boils down to relying on cable and telephone monopolies’ benevolence. What this entire situation comes down to is a fundamental disadvantage for North Carolina’s rural residents because their state will not allow them to solve their own problems locally even when the private sector abandons them.

“It’s not as if these communities have a choice as to what they’re able to do to improve their Internet service,” says report co-author Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “There’s a demonstrated need for high-quality Internet service in rural North Carolina, but the state literally refuses to let people help themselves.”


  1. Download the Report:
  2. (more…):

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ILSR’s Testimony at New York City Hearing on Retail Diversity and Neighborhood Character

by Olivia LaVecchia | October 10, 2016 12:16 pm

Locally owned businesses are taking a hit in New York City. In lower-income and affluent neighborhoods alike, long-time businesses are being forced out by chain stores, rising rents, and new development, and the barriers to starting a new enterprise in the city are higher than ever. These businesses are an essential part of the city’s character and of its economy, and though generations of New Yorkers have pulled their families into the middle class by starting a business, now, this traditional route to a stable and prosperous life is diminishing.

On Sept. 30, the New York City Council’s Committee on Small Business and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises held a hearing[1] on zoning and incentive ideas to address the crisis. There was heated discussion at the four-hour hearing, including testimony from more than 30 people. A briefing report[2] [.doc] that city staff prepared for the Council draws on ILSR’s work to propose solutions, and we also submitted written testimony.

The City has long discussed[3] taking the kind of policy action that some of its peer cities, like San Francisco, have. While this hearing is a first step, it remains to be seen whether City officials are willing to act to level the playing field for New York’s locally owned businesses.

To see our testimony, download a copy[4] [PDF] or read it below. We also examined the issue of rising retail rents in New York and other cities in our April 2016 report, “Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It[5].”


Testimony of Olivia LaVecchia and Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Before the New York City Council Committee on Small Business and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises
Oversight Hearing on Zoning and Incentives for Promoting Retail Diversity and Preserving Neighborhood Character
September 30, 2016

Thank you, Chairs Cornegy and Richards, and Members of the Committee on Small Business and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to submit testimony on this critically important issue.

We work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization with primary offices in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., where Olivia is a researcher and Stacy is co-director. In our work, we examine the many benefits that strong locally owned businesses bring to communities and economies, and public policy tools that support their growth and development. Stacy has presented on this topic at national conferences organized by groups like the American Planning Association and the National Main Street Center, and has advised many communities seeking policy responses. We’re also the co-authors of an April 2016 report titled, “Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It,” in which we outline six broad policy strategies cities can use to maintain and create a built environment where locally owned businesses thrive.[1]

Our testimony briefly examines the importance of locally owned businesses to New York City and the crisis affecting them, and then offers examples of effective and proven policy strategies to level the playing field for these businesses. Promoting retail diversity and preserving neighborhood character are worthy policy goals, and ones that help the City achieve many other goals as well, such as creating jobs, advancing economic opportunity, and strengthening neighborhoods. (more…)[6]

  1. a hearing:
  2. briefing report:
  3. long discussed:
  4. download a copy:
  5. Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It:
  6. (more…):

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In Maryland, Community Solar Pioneers Offer Blueprint

by Karlee Weinmann | October 7, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderA pair of rooftop solar arrays in Maryland spotlight how pioneering communities can pool their resources to expand local access to renewable energy. These “community solar” projects are an increasingly popular approach as electricity customers renounce utilities’ reliance on fossil fuel and look for ways to cut their energy costs.


This is part of a series released in October 2016 for Energy Awareness Month highlighting communities and community energy projects on ILSR’s Community Power Map[1].

The first of the two projects, atop a church in University Park[2] near the border of Washington D.C, went operational in 2010, around the time that legislation promoting community-scale solar projects began to surface nationwide. Back then, these solar projects were much more ad hoc. They cost more, and there were few proven success stories.

But enterprising communities saw the potential and used early solar projects as guides, giving way to a trend that has since brought community solar projects to neighborhoods across the U.S. The roughly 23-kilowatt University Park project directly influenced a separate 22-kilowatt installation in Greenbelt[3], a couple of towns to the east. In both cases, the local investors sell electricity to the host site.

Community Solar Projects and Virtual Net Metering.[4]

Today, more than a half decade after both projects went operational, they deliver the benefits targeted by their backers: they generate renewable energy for local users, replacing some fossil-fueled electricity, while participants steadily earn back the investment made to supplement tax credits and other incentives. Through 2015, they had each earned back $560[5] of their initial $1,000 buy-in.

Both projects used a private financing model to reduce compliance costs with securities regulations, a major barrier[6] for raising capital for community renewable energy projects. With other structures, these compliance costs could rise to as much as 75% of project costs. The graphic below illustrates the strategy, taken from our Beyond Sharing report[7] on community renewable energy.

University Park busting barriers[8]


The investor groups are technically for-profit entities, structured as limited liability corporations, so that they can capture perks tied to renewable energy production in Maryland. Among those incentives are renewable energy certificates, earned by generating solar power, that the groups can sell. Investors can profit from the sale of energy produced by their arrays.

“A social benefit like carbon reduction did not preclude a possible return on an individual’s contribution to the project,” the University Park partnership says it in its materials[9].

University Park and Greenbelt seeded community solar in Maryland, showing how to harness the collective investment of individuals to promote renewable energy. But privately run projects have been tough to scale up despite their success at the hyperlocal level, leaving a gap in a marketplace with unquenched demand for community solar. University Park backers, for example, were able to secure pro bono legal help in arranging the project.

That’s where a new statewide pilot program[10] comes in. The three-year initiative aims to add around 200 MW of community solar, according to plans approved in June, with about 60 MW of that capacity focused on low- and moderate-income electricity customers. Through the program, renters and others unable to install solar on their rooftops can still cash in on renewables. If it works similar to other state programs, the big difference is that the participants won’t own the solar projects, but rather just the right to a share of its electricity production, a key distinction in avoiding securities regulations.
16 states with virtual net metering transparentMaryland’s action brings it into a group of about a dozen states with community solar policies[11], typically crafted to diversify the energy mix and drive new investment in the local clean energy economy — goals that guided the University Park and Greenbelt investors years ago.

Under regulations approved over the summer[12], the Maryland program promises utilities will pay community solar subscribers the retail rate for energy use they offset and excess power generated by their arrays. It also guarantees no subscription fees for customers, meaning those opting in as projects go online will see the same payback on their electricity bills as rooftop solar customers.

One utility, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Inc., challenged the state’s ability to impose the on-bill credit guarantee for electricity that exceeds the customer’s own use and has asked federal regulators[13] to review the pilot program.

For their part, though, local officials have touted community solar as a multi-pronged asset to the state. It aligns, they say, with a broader vision for a more dynamic local energy economy. W. Kevin Hughes, who heads the Maryland Public Service Commission, has cheered the initiative.

“This pilot program will implement the General Assembly’s desire to increase access to solar electricity for all Maryland ratepayers, especially low- and moderate-income customers,” he said in June[14], after it sealed regulatory approval. “It will encourage private investment in Maryland’s solar industry and diversify the state’s energy resource mix.”

To learn more about the national movement toward distributed generation and renewables, visit ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map[1]. The tool showcases programming, policies and projects across the U.S., and compares state-by-state performance. Bookmark it and check back for updates.

This article originally posted at[15]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[16] or get the Energy Democracy weekly update[17].

  1. Community Power Map:
  2. atop a church in University Park:
  3. a separate 22-kilowatt installation in Greenbelt:
  4. [Image]:
  5. earned back $560:
  6. a major barrier:
  7. Beyond Sharing report:
  8. [Image]:
  9. says it in its materials:
  10. a new statewide pilot program:
  11. states with community solar policies:
  12. approved over the summer:
  13. has asked federal regulators:
  14. he said in June:
  16. Twitter:
  17. Energy Democracy weekly update:

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Mediacom Lawyers Slow Internet Competition With Court Time, Resources

by Lisa Gonzalez | October 6, 2016 7:26 am

When big corporate incumbent providers fear a hint of competition from a new entrant, they pull out all the stops to quash any potential threat. One of the first lines of offense involves the courts. Iowa City now leases its fiber to Cedar Rapids based ImOn[1] and to stop it, Mediacom is reprocessing an old argument. It didn’t work the first time, but they are going for it anyway; this is another example of how cable companies try to hobble competitors; just stalling can be a “win.”

A Lawsuit In Search Of An Offense

Mediacom has a franchise[2] agreement with Iowa City to offer cable television services and it also provides subscribers the option to purchase Internet access and telephone services. As most of our readers are attuned to these matters, you probably already understand that just any old cable TV provider can’t come into Iowa City and set up shop. State and local law require them to obtain a franchise agreement, which often includes additional obligations in exchange for access to a community’s potential customer base.

According to a 2015 Gazette article[3], Mediacom provides annual payments for use of the public right-of-way, operates a local office, and provides free basic cable services to local schools and government buildings. These types of commitments are commonplace as part of franchise agreements and are small sacrifices compared to the potential revenue available to Mediacom.

ImOn started offering Internet access and phone services to Iowa City downtown businesses in January but the company does not offer cable TV services like it does in other Iowa municipalities. ImOn doesn’t have a franchise agreement with Iowa City but Mediacom says that it should. They argue that, because ImOn has built a system capable of offering video service, it should also have to obtain a franchise agreement.

In August, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Wolle dismissed the case, stating in a nutshell:

“Although ImOn is constructing in Iowa City a system that may become capable of delivering cable programming, ImOn is not now delivering cable programming. Therefore, ImOn is not presently required to seek a cable franchise.”

Blast From The Past

This isn’t the first time this argument has echoed off the walls of a courtroom. Back in 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed a similar case between Time Warner Cable (TWC) and the city of North Kansas City. The situation was similar, except the city had not yet decided whether to invest in the required head end to provide video over the fiber-optic[4] network they wanted to deploy. At the time, a Missouri law required a vote if the community planned to build and own a system in order to offer cable TV services. TWC wanted the use the court for a pre-emptive strike: to bar the city from using the network for video services stating that they could not do so because they had never held a vote.

TWC’s argument revolved around the question of whether or not the city owned or operated a cable television facility, which was in violation of state law. Since the network was not offering cable services and there was no head end yet – in fact they didn’t even know if they wanted to invest in one – what really mattered was whether or not North Kansas City owned a “cable TV facility” without prior voter approval. In other words, were they building a network that was capable of offering cable TV services?

As in Iowa City, the court determined that the issue was not “ripe.” From the opinion[5]:

It is factually undisputed that the City’s fiber-optic network is not connected to the required head end facility to receive such signals nor is there any plan to acquire it. Thus, Time Warner’s statutory claim rests on a contingent future event:  the ownership or operation of a cable-television facility by the City;  therefore, Time Warner’s claim that a vote is required under Missouri law is not ripe in that the City does not currently own or operate a cable-television facility because the planned fiber-optic network will not be capable of transmitting cable-television signals and because the City recognizes that in order for it to provide cable-television services a public vote would be required.

Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

Jeff Janssen, vice president of sales and marketing for ImOn said in December that if the provider’s plans change, they will take the necessary steps:

“Franchise agreements are all around cable TV,” he said. “Once we decide, or if we decided to offer cable TV in Iowa City, we would get that franchise agreement, we are required to.”

Every Tool In The Anti-Competitive Toolbox

Mediacom has approximately 4,500 employees and, like the other large corporate providers, they have a highly qualified regiment of attorneys. Not likely they missed the similarities between the North Kansas City and Iowa City cases, but there’s more than one way to win.

Traditionally, winning means presenting the facts and proving to the judge that they fit into the law and that your interpretation of how they work with the law is more correct than your opponent’s. For companies like Mediacom and TWC, however, winning can also mean delaying your opponents project to drive up their costs or cool subscriber interest. In other words, going after the fruit before it is “ripe.”

Winning may also mean forcing the other side to give up and walk away by driving up their legal costs or making them lose progress when construction is delayed and subscribers lose confidence in the project.

Big incumbents have become masters at using the courts for sabotage schemes, no matter how frivolous the perceived infringement. They sue or threaten to sue over poles[6], attempts to streamline[7], and what services a city can and cannot offer[8]. The state legislatures that have passed laws restricting local authority have only helped massive telecoms and cable companies abuse the courts by providing vehicles for their lawsuits. At the same time, they have forced local governments to waste citizen funds and stalled Internet access, typically to the communities most desperate for it.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[9]

  1. Iowa City now leases its fiber to Cedar Rapids based ImOn:
  2. franchise: /glossary/1#term12
  3. 2015 Gazette article:
  4. fiber-optic: /glossary/1#term10
  5. From the opinion:
  6. sue over poles:
  7. attempts to streamline:
  8. can and cannot offer:
  9. here:

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Report: Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?

by John Farrell | September 30, 2016 6:00 am



Download the Report[1]


Browse the Report

Introduction: The Savings of Size?
    Renewable Energy Economies of Scale
Evidence to the Contrary
    Limits to Scale in Wind
    Limits to Scale in Solar
    Does Big or Small Grow Fastest?
Why Economics Isn’t the Issue


Conventional wisdom suggests the biggest wind and solar power plants will be cheapest, but where they deliver power, and who will own them, matters more.



Introduction: The Savings of Size?

For nearly a century, it’s been considered conventional wisdom that larger-scale power generation means lower-cost electricity. This wisdom is built on two basic theories of economies of scale.

First, there’s the simple fact that larger volume components of power plants provide more usable space than the related materials costs. This simple illustration explains. The box on the left has a volume of 1x1x1 = 1 cubic foot. To assemble the box, you need 6 square pieces of material, each with an area of 1, for a total of 6 square feet. The box on the right has a volume of 2x2x2 = 8 cubic feet. The larger box can be assembled of 6 square pieces, each with an area of 2×2 = 4 square feet, for a total of 24 square feet. We’ve increase the volume of our container 8-fold, with only a 4-fold increase in material costs.

As power plants became bigger in the first half of the 20th century, they captures this economy of scale in materials.

The second basic theory is that the average cost of a product decreases the more you make of it. This takes into account the scale economies in material costs (in building the factories), but also the notion that some overhead costs (such as annual registration fees, insurance, etc) are fixed or grow more slowly than the total output of a business.

Both of these theories were well supported by data in the early years of electricity generation in the 1900s, with coal, oil, and then nuclear power plants producing lower cost power from larger sized plants. The advantage to size also lent credence to the conventional wisdom of monopoly utilities. Big power plants required large amounts of capital, and capital markets offered lower interest rates to companies that did not have the risk of competition for their ever­-larger power plants. (more…)[2]

  1. Download the Report:
  2. (more…):

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Trust In Government: Strongest Close To Home

by Hannah Trostle | September 27, 2016 5:29 am

We have recently covered state laws preempting local control, especially in North Carolina and Tennessee[1]. State governments are supposed to be “laboratories of democracy” and municipalities are sub-parts of the state. Preemption is ostensibly to prevent problems, but instead these state laws limit local governments’ solutions for ensuring better connectivity.

At the same time, people trust their local government, more than their state government, to handle problems. That’s the latest finding from Gallup’s most recent Governance Poll, and that makes sense for all of us following community networks.

It’s no surprise that trust starts with local community leaders. We have spoken to a number of public officials that acknowledge that when you know your elected official – perhaps live down the street from them or run into them at the grocery store – it’s much easier to know that they share your hopes for the community.

Polls, Trends, and Republicans

Gallup’s September 7th-11th Governance Poll[2] found that 71 percent trust their local government to handle problems, but only 62 percent say the same about their state government. This continues a fifteen-year trend of people putting their faith in local government more than in state government.


Seventy-five percent of Republicans stated that they have a “great deal/fair amount” of trust in local government. (Compare to only 71 percent of Independents and 66 percent of Democrats.)  This corresponds with what we found in January 2015 while analyzing our data. Most citywide, residential, municipal networks are built in conservative cities[3]. They trust local governments to solve connectivity problems when the big providers can’t or won’t deliver.


Image of the graph on trust in local and state governments from Gallup[4]

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[5]

  1. North Carolina and Tennessee:
  2. Gallup’s September 7th-11th Governance Poll:
  3. municipal networks are built in conservative cities:
  4. Image of the graph on trust in local and state governments from Gallup:
  5. here:

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Connectivity’s Community Impact: Looking At The Numbers

by Hannah Trostle | September 24, 2016 5:09 am

People rave about next-generation connectivity’s possibilities in rural economies, but what does that mean for locals? A recent survey quantified the actual impact of a reliable high-speed Internet connection in an underserved area.

Central Minnesota telephone cooperative, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), released the results of an impact survey[1] on their newest fiber Internet service customers. CTC had extended their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd[2], with funding from a 2015 state broadband grant.

A Positive for Small Businesses and Farms

The survey of the CTC customers in the grant footprint highlighted the importance of connectivity for the community. Forty percent reported that they could not live in a home without a reliable high-speed connection. At the same time, fifty-six percent of the CTC customers currently use their home Internet connection for work purposes.

The new connectivity had a positive impact on small businesses and farms. More than twenty percent of the CTC customers maintain a home-based business or farm, and thirty-six percent of them reported that Internet service reduced their overall operating costs. Meanwhile, nine percent of all the CTC customers surveyed stated that they plan to start a home-based business in the next few years.

Reaching Goals

These results are especially refreshing for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program. CTC received more than $750,000 from the program in 2015 to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses[3] in the area.

The previously underserved area sits south of Brainerd and extends to Fort Ripley. To encourage survey responses, CTC offered the chance to win an iPad and sent reminder postcards and emails to their customers. Twenty-eight percent of CTC’s customer base in that area took the survey either online or over the phone

The Co-op Perspective

Blandin on Broadband recently published videos[4] from a co-op panel at the 2016 Minnesota Broadband Conference. In this short video from the conference, CTC representative Kristi Westbrock discusses the survey and the role of rural co-ops in expanding access to high-quality Internet service.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[5].

Photo Credit: Doug Kerr[6] via Flickr (CC 2.0[7])

  1. released the results of an impact survey:
  2. Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd:
  3. to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses:
  4. Blandin on Broadband recently published videos:
  5. here:
  6. Doug Kerr:
  7. CC 2.0:

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The Dark Store Tax Dodge of Big-Box Retailers – Episode 1 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | September 23, 2016 12:00 pm

Welcome to the first episode of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s newest podcast series, “Building Local Power[1].”

In our first episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Olivia LaVecchia, a research associate with our Community-Scaled Economy initiative, about her work on the “dark store” strategy that big-box retailers have been using to slash their property tax assessments.

“A lot of our systems are set up to privilege big-box stores and these bigger companies,” says LaVecchia[2]. “There’s this narrative out there that locally owned businesses can’t compete, when really that’s not what’s going on. They’re competing pretty well considering they have to swim upstream a lot of the time.”


For more information, take a look at our article on the tactic, “For Cities, Big-Box Stores Are Becoming Even More of a Terrible Deal[9].”

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[10] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[11] license.

  1. Building Local Power:
  2. LaVecchia:
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  5. Download:
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  9. For Cities, Big-Box Stores Are Becoming Even More of a Terrible Deal:
  10. Funk Interlude:
  11. Attribution Noncommercial (3.0):

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At the Two-Year Mark, a Few Lessons from the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership – Episode 40 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by Karlee Weinmann | September 16, 2016 12:00 pm

Minneapolis garnered national attention when it formed a first-of-its-kind partnership[1] with local utilities to advance sustainable, efficient energy policy. Now, as communities across the U.S. increasingly push for influence over their energy futures, the Midwestern city offers a blueprint for what works and a taste of the challenges that come with cooperation.

John Farrell, who leads the Energy Democracy Initiative at ILSR, was a key player in forging the hard-fought Clean Energy Partnership[2] in 2013. He’s still involved as a member of the advisory committee formed to steer the city and its two investor-owned utilities toward policies that favor renewable energy and efficiency.

Officially two years in, the Minneapolis model offers deeper insight to other communities chasing meaningful change. Farrell outlined the key takeaways in the latest episode of Local Energy Rules, the ILSR podcast that highlights innovative pathways to local, renewable energy.


A Historic Partnership

The Clean Energy Partnership, as it’s known, marked a pioneering approach to responsible energy policy. It united the City of Minneapolis and its two investor-owned utilities, electricity provider Xcel Energy and natural gas provider Centerpoint, to advance the city’s goals for shrinking its carbon footprint and promoting a healthy energy economy.

By the time the partnership formed in 2013, Minneapolis had already set ambitious targets for reducing emissions by 30 percent by 2025 — a benchmark out of reach unless households and businesses significantly cut their electricity and natural gas use. That energy consumption was central to the effort, placing utilities at the heart of the issue.

Still, the utilities hopped on board only after a fierce campaign to shake up their outdated business models, including a threat to put power exclusively under the city’s control. Ultimately, the focus shifted away from municipalization toward the unique three-way framework in play today. The compromise guaranteed a change[9] in how the city treats energy.

“We didn’t get the municipalization vote on the ballot. We felt in a way like we had lost the fight for the leverage that we wanted,” Farrell said. “On the other hand, we had actually already gotten something that we wanted, which was we had gotten this public commitment from both utilities.”

The monthslong saga spotlighted the need for innovative strategies, like raising municipalization as a viable alternative, to push reluctant utilities and enterprising cities toward better energy policies.

Building Alliances

Organizers in Minneapolis mounted their Minneapolis Energy Options campaign at a key time, when each city council member and the mayor were up for election. Several sitting policymakers had aligned themselves with the city’s Climate Action Plan, but the election season brought a bigger platform to raise energy issues — including municipalization — and demand accountability.

Multiple candidates, as well as the outgoing mayor, threw their weight behind plans to shake up how Minneapolis approaches energy. Against the backdrop of growing community interest, the organizers nailed down commitments from officials and in turn cemented vital alliances at City Hall. Still, as labor-intensive as it was, drumming up support from voters and candidates was the easier part.

The utilities, locked into a decades-old business model that shortchanges renewables and energy efficiency, were tougher sells. Ultimately, they buckled under rising pressure to join forces with the city. They promised to evaluate how they could fit into the city’s aggressive energy plan, and then-Mayor R.T. Rybak made clear the city expected distinct results.

In a letter to Xcel’s brass[10], Rybak set a bar for the partnership to produce a payoff more significant than the utility’s lackluster past efforts to support Minneapolis in going green.

“It was the perfect response, to say that, ‘Yes, we would love to work with you, but it’s going to have to be more meaningful than it has been in the past,’” Farrell said. “That really made it clear that the city was on our side in this fight, and that the utilities were going to have to please the city in some ways to get them off their back.”

Finding Leverage

Pressure from the city exposed new opportunities to prod the utilities to do more. Rybak’s letter put momentum behind the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign, but it also invited officials — and the public — to closely monitor exactly how far the utilities went to propel city goals forward[11]. That particularly stung Xcel, whose headquarters sits in downtown Minneapolis.

A budding fight for municipalization, or at least a notable overhaul, in MInneapolis fanned tensions already brewing in Boulder, CO. There, Xcel was mired in a long-running, messy fight over whether the city should squeeze it out to form its own electric utility. As Farrell remembers it, Xcel’s CEO was so defensive that he hinted the company would move to a different city.

“We got under their skin,” Farrell said, noting that a utility’s public image can be a valuable tool to force change. The specter of ratepayers frustrated with Xcel for doing too little to support the city’s Climate Action Plan became a pressure point in getting the utility to deepen its focus on those goals.

Advocates eyeing similar shakeups in their cities can borrow from the growing crop of cities eyeing similar outcomes, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Organizers in Madison, WI, for example, have followed Minneapolis’ lead to motivate meaningful changes in local energy policy. But their approach is decidedly different — it starts in the boardroom.

Shareholders in Madison’s investor-owned utility have called for tweaks through resolutions that outline better long-term strategies[12]. The “activist shareholder” approach has become increasingly common in U.S. boardrooms, and the technique can be useful in bending utilities toward policies and programs that favor customers, renewables and energy efficiency.

“If you really want to move utilities and elected officials, you need leverage,” Farrell said. “You need to make them feel like they have to respond to you.”

Thinking creatively about the individual dynamics at play in each community is key to crafting the solutions that make progress possible. Cities like Madison and Minneapolis both showcase the potential for novel tactics to shape the fight for more sensible energy policy.

“To me, it suggests there’s always a lever somewhere you can move,” Farrell said. “It’s just a question of identifying where those levers are and how to pull on them.”

Charting Progress

Minneapolis’ unique approach to addressing significant gaps in in energy mix offers a loose blueprint for other cities, but the partnership is far from a ready-made solution. While it itself offers a platform for delivering results, growing pains and slow progress showcase the ongoing work needed to capture the opportunity.

The citizen advisory committee, on which Farrell sits, is an important check on the partnership’s progress and priorities — especially considering the inertia prevalent among utilities that leaves them reliant on an old-school business model that hinges big profits on hefty consumption and dirty power generation.

As it stands, Farrell says, the Minneapolis framework through its first years has yet to reach its potential. The group is approaching the end of its inaugural two-year work plan[13], designed mainly to set a foundation for future efforts. Reports so far highlight existing programs that dovetail with the partnership’s goals, but the utilities have yet to introduce new, bigger approaches.

“That’s kind of the key to this next work plan,” Farrell said. “What are we going to put in there that’s going to accomplish some of those goals?”

Going forward, advocates want to see richer data collection and a focus on equitable access to initiatives that support access to renewable energy and efficiency-oriented upgrades. They also want greater community engagement, a callback to an important piece of the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign.

Measuring some progress is easy, because benchmarks are spelled out in city documents. That includes emissions reductions of 80% by 2050, a plan to reach 75 percent of Minneapolis households with an energy retrofit by 2025, and an overarching effort to reduce energy consumption. But none of those will happen — and no more ambitious goals will surface — if the utilities don’t debut wider-reaching programs with access in mind. The initial work plan also failed to set any interim goals, making it harder to evaluate efforts in the short run, an issue Farrell is interested in solving for the upcoming two-year plan.

While municipalization would have guaranteed the city more flex over how it achieves its goals, the partnership offers advantages. Rather than wrangle over a city utility takeover for several years, the three-pronged partnership can get to work now.

“I’m optimistic that the partnership will prove more effective because we have more time to work with it,” Farrell said. “Although the key is whether or not some of the programs that have already launched are going to be ambitious enough and whether or not the new items that we add can be successful.”

For further reading, check out Farrell’s review of the first two years of the Clean Energy Partnership[14] and proposals for the next work plan[15] from Community Power (the successor to Minneapolis Energy Options).

This is the 40th edition of Local Energy Rules[16], an ILSR podcast with Director of Energy Democracy John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.

Local Energy Rules is published intermittently on, but you can Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[17] or RSS/XML[18].

This article originally posted at[19]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[20] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[21] update.

  1. a first-of-its-kind partnership:
  2. Clean Energy Partnership:
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. iTunes:
  7. Android:
  8. RSS:
  9. guaranteed a change:
  10. a letter to Xcel’s brass:
  11. propel city goals forward:
  12. resolutions that outline better long-term strategies:
  13. inaugural two-year work plan:
  14. Farrell’s review of the first two years of the Clean Energy Partnership:
  15. proposals for the next work plan:
  16. Local Energy Rules:
  17. iTunes:
  18. RSS/XML:
  20. Twitter:
  21. Energy Democracy weekly:

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Wilson, North Carolina Forced to Turn Off Service to Rural Pinetops

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 16, 2016 7:07 am

Last night, Wilson’s City Council voted to halt Greenlight Internet service to the community of Pinetops[1], North Carolina. City leaders, faced with the unfortunate reversal of the FCC’s preemption[2] of harmful state anti-muni laws, felt the move was necessary to protect the utility. Service will stop at the end of October.

No Other Solution

Before the vote City Manager Grant Goings told the Wilson Times[3]:

“Unfortunately, there is a very real possibility that we will have to disconnect any customer outside our county. That is the cold, hard truth,” Goings said. “Without getting into the legal options that our city attorney will discuss with the council, I’ll summarize it like this: we have not identified a solution where Greenlight can serve customers outside of our county.

“While we are very passionate about reaching underserved areas and we think the laws are atrocious to prevent people from having service, we’re not going to jeopardize our ability to serve Wilson residents.”

When H129 passed in 2011, it provided an exemption for Wilson, which allows Greenlight to serve Wilson County. The bill also states[4] that if they go beyond their borders, they lose the exemption. North Carolina’s priorities are clearly not with the rural communities, but with the big corporate providers that pushed to pass the bill.

After Wilson leaders took the vote, Christopher commented on the fact that they have been put in such a difficult position:

“It is a travesty that North Carolina is prioritizing the profits of the big cable and telephone companies above the well-being of local businesses and residents. The state legislature needs to focus on what is good for North Carolina businesses and residents, not only what these powerful lobbyists want.”

Economic Progress Grinds To A Halt

Vick Family Farms, highlighted in a recent New York Times article[5], is only one Pinetops business that faces an uncertain future. The potato farm invested in a new packing plant that requires the Gigabit connectivity they can only get from Greenlight. Incumbent Centurylink has explicitly stated that is has no intention to upgrade infrastructure in a community of only 1,300 people.

In a letter to Governor McCrory[6], Mayor Burress rightly lays the blame on the shoulders of the state. “In effect,” he says, “the state of North Carolina is turning off our Gigabit entry to the 21st century global knowledge economy.”

He also describes how Gigabit connectivity to rural Pinetops, brightened their future[7] in a number of ways:

“The economic future of my rural community improved immediately when we gained access to Wilson’s broadband service. Compared to what we had been receiving from the incumbent, access to Greenlight services was like being catapulted from the early 1990s into the 21st century. Our small businesses and residents have saved hundreds of dollars and significantly increased their productivity because of the reliable and super fast Greenlight speeds. Our town commissioners also began planning a new economic development strategy, because as a Gigabit giber community we became newly competitive in the region for attracting creative class and knowledge workers from Greenville and Rocky Mount and the new jobs created by the Rocky Mount CSX distribution hub.”

The Pinetops Board of Commissioners passed a resolution[8] after the Wilson vote, calling on the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal H129. Wilson Energy will still use the fiber connections to Pinetops homes will still use but customers will not have the option to use the infrastructure for connectivity. Nevertheless, if there are future changes in North Carolina laws that remove the state barriers, Pinetops could once again be served by Wilson’s Greenlight.

Bigger Than Wilson

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit made their decision to reverse the FCC’s ruling on the anti-muni laws, their decision immediately harmed the community of Pinetops. Their decision, however, reaches to every rural community where the big Internet Service Providers don’t offer the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity needed in the 21st century.

In the words of Wilson’s City Manager:

“This is bigger than Wilson. This is about the rural areas, particularly in eastern North Carolina, because the majority of the area does not present enough profitability to attract the private-sector investment,” Goings said. “As a community, a state and frankly as a nation, we need to find ways to connect these rural communities, and our city council believes strongly that our state officials should focus on being part of the solution instead of constructing barriers to prevent communities from being served.”

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[9]

  1. community of Pinetops:
  2. reversal of the FCC’s preemption:
  3. told the Wilson Times:,72844
  4. The bill also states:
  5. highlighted in a recent New York Times article:
  6. a letter to Governor McCrory:
  7. brightened their future:
  8. passed a resolution:
  9. here:

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Eureka Recycling: Efficient, Cost Effective and Socially Beneficial Recycling

by Neil Seldman | September 8, 2016 9:35 am

Grassroots recycling companies were a critical link in the United States as the transition from the drop off recycling centers that sprung up after Earth Day in 1970 and municipal curbside service that emerged in the mid 1970s. Non-profit and for profit enterprises demonstrated the feasibility of curbside collection and by the mid 1980s municipal services were being introduced throughout the U.S. Established hauling companies bought some of the more successful enterprises.[1][1] Several remain in operation today: Recycle North in Burlington, VT, Center for Eco Technology in Pittsfield, MA, Infinity Recycling in Chestertown, MD, EcoCycle in Boulder, CO, Berkeley Ecology Center, Ann Arbor Ecology Center, Resource Center in Chicago, and Eureka Recycling in St Paul, MN.

From these beginnings, the country today enjoys a vibrant recycling industry with over one million workers, 65,000 companies and 40,000 local government programs.

Community based recycling enterprises always out compete the large national haulers, by far. The challenge is to get access to the materials that they control as waste.
– Dan Knapp, Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA

Most recently non-profit Eureka Recycling[2] is demonstrating that local and community focused enterprises are the most cost effective and socially beneficial way to recycle. They are establishing a new and higher standard for municipal contracting for recycling services.  These standards include prohibiting the use of at risk temporary workers with meager pay and no benefits.  Employing well-trained unionized workers under respectful labor conditions leads to less absenteeism, turnover and compensation claims.   (See “Social Enterprise Zero Waste Group Beats Multinationals in Twin Cities Recycling Contracts[3]” – Eureka Recycling,  June 29, 2016 and an Excerpt from Statement from Dan Knapp and Neil Seldman on the US Recycling Archive Project, 2015[4])

Eureka has been the St Paul recycling service provider for 15 years and just won a new 5-year contract for recycling collection and processing to begin January 2017.  Eureka also won the contract to expand its processing services to Minneapolis starting in November 2017, outbidding Waste Management, Inc. These new contracts allow the Twin Cities-based organization to add additional shifts, employ over 80 workers, deploy new green trucks and process more than 80,000 tons of recyclables per year from the Twin Cities. Ten years ago, Eureka built its own materials recovery facility (MRF), as it needed to become independent of MRFs controlled by concentrated hauling companies.  This move has allowed them to expand and grow their business.

eureka-Truck-Side-AngleThe community and workers have benefited from this social enterprise. Many workers, for example, have been with the company for 12 plus years. While others have been with the company for at least 3.5 years. Traditional processing companies rely on temporary workers that sidestep the responsibility to provide fair wages and working conditions. Eureka’s workers are paid a living wage plus health insurance coverage and sick leave. Eureka has won specific praise from the public because they learn that “why you recycle is reflected in the decisions about how you recycle.”

Eureka pledge to its customers includes:

Using their recycling operations as a demonstration towards changing systems that perpetuate waste, Eureka is much more than just a recycler. On October 22, 2016, Eureka will hold a Zero Waste Summit [5]focused on growing the Zero Waste movement in the Twin Cities region and exploring the potential to collaborate across sectors to ensure that waste-reduction solutions are equitable.

The social enterprise remains committed to solving problems through its focus on community service, its workers and the environment. Other cities should pay attention to the new realities of community based recycling that integrates business with education and outreach to spur increased recycling levels.


[1][6] These included Portland (OR) Recycling Team, Garbagios, Eugene, OR, Recycle Unlimited, Grand Rapids, Recycling Unlimited, St. Paul, MN, Garbage Reincarnation and Santa Rosa Community Recycling Center in Santa Rosa, CA, San Francisco Community Recyclers, Solano (CA) Recycling and Palisades Recycling, Los Angeles.

  1. [1]: #_ftn1
  2. Eureka Recycling:
  3. Social Enterprise Zero Waste Group Beats Multinationals in Twin Cities Recycling Contracts: http://Social%20Enterprise%20Zero%20Waste%20Group%20Beats%20Multinationals%20in%20Twin%20Cities%20Recycling%20Contracts
  4. Excerpt from Statement from Dan Knapp and Neil Seldman on the US Recycling Archive Project, 2015:
  5. Eureka will hold a Zero Waste Summit :
  6. [1]: #_ftnref

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Watch: Policy Tools That Enable Local Businesses to Thrive

by ILSR Admin | September 7, 2016 11:39 am

For too long, public policy has rigged the market to favor big corporations and undermine small, locally owned businesses, especially those launched by women and people of color. ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell recently joined with leaders and advocates at the CommonBound conference, held this year in Buffalo, NY, to discuss how, now, local businesses and activists across the country are working to change the rules to instead support community enterprises.

In this session, Mitchell, along with Devita Davison from FoodLab Detroit, Kimber Lanning from Local First Arizona, and Chris Schildt from PolicyLink, take a look at how cities and states can expand financing for local businesses, keep commercial space affordable, end corporate subsidies, better support entrepreneurs of color, and more. Through presentations and discussion, the panelists cover concrete policy tools for building a robust ecosystem for local businesses, as well as new insights on engaging small businesses as allies in building a new economy. (more…)[1]

  1. (more…):

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November 8th: Four Key Factors for the Armchair Strategist

by David Morris | August 31, 2016 10:05 am

Two months to elections and counting. Americans will be voting for the entire House, a third of the Senate and the President, as well as all members of state legislative lower houses and usually half of their state senators.

It may be an historic election, an election in which many states will be operating under rules adopted only in the last half dozen years. These rules affect the value of one’s vote and the ease of voting. All of this is occurring in a setting where fewer and fewer federal races are even competitive. Together these impose considerable challenges for those trying to dislodge incumbents the success of which may depend significantly on the level of voter turnout.

Voter dilution, voter suppression, turnout, the dwindling number of winnable seats. These four key factors will influence the outcome of the 2016 election and determine the future composition of the federal government.

Voter Dilution

Every 10 years, by Constitutional mandate, the U.S. government conducts a Census that determines the number of Representatives allocated to each state. The Constitution largely, although not entirely, leaves the manner in which those Representatives are elected to the states.

According to Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Choosing Senators.”

In 1842, for the first time, Congress intervened in state elections, eliciting howls of protest from states’ righters. Congress demanded that Representatives “should be elected by districts composed of contiguous territory … no one district electing more than one Representative.”   In 1872 Congress added the requirement that districts have “as nearly as practicable an equal number of inhabitants.” In 1901 and again in 1911, Congress also required the district be “compact.”

In 1929 Congress dropped all state election requirements excepting for single member districts. For the next three decades the size and design of voting districts rested entirely in the hands of state legislatures. To protect their seats, incumbents drew wildly unequal and discriminatory election districts. Fearful of losing their legislative dominance as populations shifted to urban areas, rural legislators designed districts whose populations sometimes varied by as much as 100 to 1. Race-based gerrymandering was common.

In 1962, in a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court finally decided[1] that federal courts could intervene to determine the constitutionality of state voting districts.  As Justice William Douglas explained, if a voter no longer has “the full constitutional value of his franchise, and the legislative branch fails to take appropriate restorative action, the doors of the courts must be open to him.” In 1964 the Supreme Court clarified and amplified this decision by ruling[2] that state Congressional districts must be similar in size so that “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s.” Still another decision[3] extended this requirement to both houses of a state legislature.

At the same time Congress again intervened, this time with the 1965 Voting Rights Act that banned racially based redistricting and racially discriminatory voting requirements.

Since then courts have repeatedly been asked to intervene. When faced with a clear case of racially based redistricting, they’ve often been willing to do so, but they’ve adopted a hands-off approach when the shape of a district, no matter how oddly drawn, is a result only of political partisanship, no matter how stark. (more…)[4]

  1. decided:
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  3. decision:
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NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore, Fall 2016!

by Linda Bilsens | August 30, 2016 3:45 pm

APPLY by September 19th, 2016!

The City of Baltimore is dedicated to establishing itself as a leader in sustainable local food systems[1] by encouraging urban farming. The City already boasts 16 farms, both for- and non-profit, and has various programs[2] in place to support local farmers. But, as is true in most old industrial cities, soil contamination is a reality[3] that must be managed to mitigate impacts on human health. The good news is that the City is also promoting simple soil best management practices[4], including amending soils with compost, that can be followed to help minimize risk factors associated with lead and other common pollutants.

Among the many benefits of composting and compost use[5] are those involving the soil[6]. Compost has the ability to filter out 60-95% of pollutants from stormwater and can immobilize and degrade contaminants already in the soil. ILSR’s Composting for Community Initiative is proud to help support the City’s healthy food growing goals by partnering with ECO City Farms[7], Civic Works’ Real Food Farm[8], Urban Farm Plans[9] and Compost Cab[10] to bring the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders[11] Master Composter training course to the Baltimore community this fall! Read on for more information:


Fall 2016 Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Master Composter Training Course in Baltimore:

When: 6:30 – 9pm on Wednesdays (weekly, 10/5 – 11/9); 10am-5pm on Saturdays (10/8, 10/22, 11/5)

Where: Civic Works’ Real Food Farm at 2801 St. Lo Drive, Baltimore, MD 21213

Contact: Linda Bilsens,[12]

Application Deadline: Monday, September 19th, 2016.

To Apply: Applications are no longer being acceptedUpon review, qualified applicants* will be contacted to arrange a brief interview for the week of September 19th, 2016.

*As one goal of this program is to cultivate sustainable community-scaled composting projects, preference will be given to participants willing to support an existing composting project, and pairs of applicants from the same community – find a friend, colleague, or neighbor to take the course with you!

Cost: The fee for this course is $200. Scholarships are available to those in need. A space for requesting financial assistance is provided in the online application. A $50 rebate will be made available to non-scholarship participants that successfully complete the four course requirements listed below.


Course Description: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter course provides an experiential learning environment for participants: half of the course takes place in the classroom and half in the field, doing hands-on training.

This course will cover the following topics:


Course Requirements: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter course has four main requirements: attendance of all classes; implementation of a capstone project; completion of 30 hours of supported community composting service; and tracking and sharing community service hours and work completed. Participants will have six months from the last class to complete the capstone project and community service components.

For the capstone project component, participants will support or initiate a community composting project based on their interests and the needs of the community they are serving. Participants are encouraged to collaborate on supporting an existing community composting project (such as Real Food Farms[13], Filbert Street Garden[14], and other Baltimore Farm Alliance[15] members). Other potential projects might include building and managing compost bins at community gardens, schools, churches, or compost demonstration sites. In addition, participants will provide NSR staff with brief monthly progress updates throughout the six-month, post-class period.

For the community service component, participants will be expected to log 30 hours of community composting service. Half of these hours will be spent providing hands-on composting support to a community in need.

Upon successful completion of the course requirements, participants will be eligible for receipt of a Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter certificate and will be qualified to apply to the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Advanced Master Composter train-the-trainer apprenticeship.



  1. a leader in sustainable local food systems:
  2. various programs:
  3. soil contamination is a reality:
  4. simple soil best management practices:
  5. benefits of composting and compost use:
  6. the soil:
  7. ECO City Farms:
  8. Real Food Farm:
  9. Urban Farm Plans:
  10. Compost Cab:
  11. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders:
  13. Real Food Farms:
  14. Filbert Street Garden:
  15. Baltimore Farm Alliance:

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Prince George’s County Has Officially Declined To Move Forward With Garbage Incineration

by Neil Seldman | August 25, 2016 12:35 pm

Prince George’s County has officially declined to move forward with garbage incineration as part of its future solid waste and recycling management system. On 9 August, the County notified all bidders that it has “determined that the project may not be in the best interest of the County at this time.”

Robin Lewis of Don’t Burn PG and Energy Justice Network stated to the Prince George’s County citizens’ zero waste network:

“The Prince George’s County Department of Environment (DoE) Request for Qualification (RFQ) for the Waste-to-Energy (incinerator) project has been CANCELLED!  Thanks to the hard work of all who stood up for environmental justice.

Although we won this battle, we still need you to stay engaged as the DoE will now schedule public input sessions on the County’s Zero Waste Plan.  A comprehensive Zero Waste Plan with trash disposal solutions that do not include burning will divert waste from landfills by reducing, reusing, recycling and composting materials.  This would create more jobs and reduce the waste stream by over 90% if done properly.

Please stay tune for the dates of the County’s Zero Waste Plan public input sessions.

Thanks again to those who helped make this outcome happen!!”

The zero waste network in the County includes Energy Justice Network, Community Resources, Zero Waste Prince George’s County and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

In the last few years, proposed incinerators in south Baltimore, Frederick and Carroll Counties, MD and Fredericksburg, VA have been defeated. Now activists have set their sites at phasing out the existing incinerators in downtown Baltimore and in Montgomery County, MD.

ILSR continues to work in these jurisdictions to design and implement the needed infrastructure for zero waste and economic development through implementation of unit based pricing, or “Pay As You Throw,” procurement of compost and development of a regional Resource Recovery Park for the reuse, recycling, and composting industries.

For more information about these efforts, contact Neil Seldman at[1].


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Introducing the Community Power Map

by John Farrell | August 24, 2016 6:00 am

placeholder[1]Where are communities taking charge of their energy future? Which states give communities the most power?

ILSR’s newly-released Community Power Map[2] provides an interactive illustration of how communities are accelerating the transition toward 100% renewable energy and how state policies help or hinder greater local action. You can help.

If we’re missing a state policy, grassroots energy organization, or local energy project, you can help us add it to the map!

Community Power Map[3]

This article originally posted at[4]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[5] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[6] update.

  1. [Image]:
  2. Community Power Map:
  3. [Image]:
  5. Twitter:
  6. Energy Democracy weekly:

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SandyNet Increases Speeds, Keeps Low Prices

by ILSR Admin | August 23, 2016 5:00 am

This post was written by ILSR intern, Alex Dangel[1].
On July 4th, Sandy, Oregon’s municipal fiber-optic network, SandyNet[2], permanently increased the speed of its entry-level Internet package from 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) to 300 Mbps at no additional cost to subscribers.

The city announced the speed boost for its $39.95 per month tier in a recent press release, calling it “one of the best deals in the nation.” SandyNet customers witness blazing fast download speeds at affordable prices and benefit from symmetrical upload speeds, allowing them to seamlessly interact with the cloud and work from home.

Sandy is still home the “$60 Gig” (see price chart[3]), one of the premier gigabit Internet offers in the nation. Without an electric utility, SandyNet’s unique model can be applied to “Anytown, USA.”

Read our report on Sandy, SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA[4], for details on the community’s Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless networks and listen to Chris interview Sandy officials in Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 167[5].

Check out our video on Sandy:

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[6]

  1. Alex Dangel:
  2. SandyNet:
  3. see price chart:
  4. SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA:
  5. Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 167:
  6. here:

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The Beginning of the End of Prison Privatization?

by David Morris | August 18, 2016 1:49 pm

The Federal Government announced today (August 18th) it will stop allowing private companies to operate federal prisons.  Currently private companies run 13 federal prisons.

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent[1] by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates observed[2].

Here’s hoping the states follow suit.


  1. recent:
  2. observed:

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Changing the Language of Renewable Energy, the Electric Monopoly’s Newest Ploy

by Nick Stumo-Langer | August 18, 2016 6:00 am

What happens when utility companies lose ground as their customers cut consumption and seek innovative technologies like rooftop solar? New business ventures to capture customer interest? Other new technologies?

Instead, investor-owned utilities (through the Edison Electric Institute trade organization) poured money into communications consultants, and the result of this “Lexicon Project[1]” says volumes about their plans for the changing electric system. Particularly prominent is an effort to re-cast entrepreneurial customers (wanting to cut their energy bills by installing solar) as doing so only for private benefit (despite evidence to the contrary[2]). On the flip side, the utilities want language to elevate their control over grid investments in renewable energy (and their traditional 10% return on equity).

The language maneuver comes at a time when distributed generation is under fire[3] in 38 of 50 states in the first quarter of 2016 alone, with no signs of slowing down. Many of these fights are led by the utilities interested in preserving market share, and wanting energy policy to reinforce that effort.

What’s in a Word?

The utilities propose a lot of language changes, many of which actually improve clarity and understanding of various industry terms. Talking about “variable” instead of “intermittent” power sources, for example, better illustrates the nature of wind or solar, and is a language change that renewable energy advocates would agree to. Switching from “ratepayer” to “customer” better reflects how customers see themselves, and can help change the discussion from electric rates to electric bills, since most customers only care about how much they pay per month, not per kilowatt-hour.

On the other hand, a number of word changes will be used to obscure or obfuscate.

Using “clean energy” instead of “low-carbon energy” might seem harmless, but when it refers to nuclear or natural gas power, the term-change intentionally hides the environmental costs of nuclear waste or extraction and leakage of gas. Calling an “advanced meter” a “smart meter” may be an exaggeration if the only “smart” part of it is that it can be read remotely. Smart meters ought to be those giving customers access to their own usage data and empowering time-of-use pricing of electricity, not just automated meters that allow utilities to reduce employment of meter readers.

The biggest language changes get to the heart of the utilities’ efforts to quash competition, however.

For example, the proponents of the Lexicon Project hope that “utility-scale solar” versus “rooftop solar” becomes “universal solar” versus “private solar.” The language change is intended to align readers with the utility view that utility-owned or utility-funded solar arrays are better than ones customers build themselves. Similarly, “net metering” (an accurate description of the policy allowing customers to reduce their energy bills with on-site generation) would become “private solar credits.” This is particularly nonsensical, since net metering applies to any kind of renewable energy generation, not just solar. These term changes obfuscate the reality of renewable energy’s benefits for energy customers.

Seeing Utility Spin in Practice

Rather than dive more into the particulars of the Lexicon Project, here’s an illustration of how the conversations around renewable energy would change if the utilities are successful, using this story from January on KNPR[4], about Nevada’s slashing of net metering reimbursement for rooftop solar:

Rooftop Private Solar Customers: NV Energy Pulled a Bait and Switch

by Joe Schoenmann, KNPR

Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission is being criticized for a decision that rooftop private solar companies say will kill that industry in the state.

They also say the PUC was largely influenced by the long relationship between Nevada and NV Energy, the state’s regulated energy monopoly.

Nevada energy regulators are meeting this week to decide whether to hold off on new rates for solar power energy customers.

The Public Utilities Commission scheduled a hearing Thursday for the rates, which took effect Jan. 1.

Under the new rate bill structure, current and future rooftop private solar customers will get less credit from NV Energy for excess electricity energy produced by their solar panels, which is known as net metering private solar credits.

They will also pay more per month in fees. The changes would raise the base service charge for southern Nevada solar customers from $12.75 to $17.90 per month, and from $15.25 to $21.09 for northern Nevada customers.

The service charge will rise and the reimbursement will drop every year until 2020.

We’ve heard a lot about the decision from officials, such as Governor Brian Sandoval. Sandoval even did something unheard of: he issued a statement before the PUC ruling, saying the decision could be challenged.

Ok, but what does this mean for those who have invested thousands in rooftop private solar, or who lease panels from one of the state’s rooftop companies?

Support comes from Las Vegas attorney Phil Aurbach has spent $36,000 to install solar in his home because he also had to install a patio to put the solar panels on.

He said the change will cut seriously into his budget. Before he invested in solar, he said, he paid about $60 a month for energy on his 1,900-square-foot home. After, it fell to $3 a month.

Now, he will be paying more as the fees go up.

“It’s going to be more and ratcheting up more and more, which is kind of ridiculous from my perspective to spend all that money and then have Nevada Power say ‘hey install solar, hey we’ll give you credits, we’ll help you out’ and then turn around and screw you when they realize it may cut into their profits,” Aurbach said.

Charlie Catania also invested in solar energy power. He leased a system, which means a rooftop private solar energy power company installed the system and he pays them for the equipment.

He is now frustrated and not sure what he is going to do about escalating costs.

“You have to understand that I did my due diligence, after the statute was passed and felt that who would renege on something like this?” he said, “This came from the state and Nevada Power. And so I entered into a contractual agreement and low and behold it didn’t stand up. I don’t know what I’m going to do quiet frankly.”

Catania said he feels abandoned by the Legislature and violated by the PUC.

State Sen. Patricia Farley, Republican, called in to talk about the issue. Farley was part of the effort to figure out private solar credits net metering in last year’s legislative session.

At issue was the cap on net metering private solar credits, which was 3 three percent, but supporters of solar energy power wanted moved to 10 percent. After several months of back and forth[5], the Legislature decided to put the question of rooftop private solar into the hands of the PUC.

According to Farley, all parties involved agreed the PUC should make the decision. However, she does want to talk to the commission about the controversial decision.

“I have made phone calls into Commissioner [David] Nobel to make sure the legislative intent was followed through,” she said, “I was the one that added the amendment to make sure the grand fathering, that PUC had the ability to look current folks that were on the net metering private solar credits programs and make sure we were regulating their rates correctly.”

Attorney Tim Hay is a former Nevada Consumer Advocate. He helped write the 1997 law that put net metering private solar credits into place in Nevada.

He said the decision by the PUC raises a number of legal questions and there could be some effective challenges against it.

One of the biggest problems he has with the decision is the retroactive nature of it.

“The retroactive aspect of this decision is particularly pernicious because it in effect has devalued the investment customers had made from the very beginning in solar,” Hay said.

He also disputes NV Energy’s reasoning that non-solar customers rate payers are subsidizing solar users. He said it is essentially a wash, especially in Southern Nevada, where peak power energy capacity generation hits at the same time there is peak demand.

For Bryan Miller with the rooftop private solar company Sunrun, the problem is jobs. Miller said the commissioners legacy would be the loss of thousands of jobs.

“The most important thing about this story is that there are real jobs here that have been lost already, thousands of jobs,” Miller said.

Miller pointed to the decisions by SolarCity to cease operations and Vivint Solar stopping its efforts to set up shop as examples.

Hay agrees that the decision will cost jobs in the state. He believes the PUC did not take economics into consideration and he believes lawmakers would have wanted the commission to include it.

“I believe part of the issue is that we had a number of freshman legislators in both chambers who were not familiar with the state’s history,” Hay said.

State Sen. Farley took issue with that characterization and said many veteran lawmakers were involved in the process. She also stood by the decision to put private solar credits net metering in to the hands of the PUC.

“Every year the Sunrun and the solar folks were coming back to the Legislature asking for increasing in private solar credits net metering and it is a very complicated situation and our job as legislators is protect every customer rate payer not just the SolarCity,” Farley said, “A lot of states have found that the net metering private solar credits program is a subsidy and that on average the customers rate payers are paying for people to have solar on their rooftops and the cost of solar has come down but not significantly.”

Miller responded strongly to that comment.

“Anyone listening today, you just heard the problem,” he said, “Anyone listening if you want to do something about this incredibly anti-business climate that Nevada has created the first thing you can do is vote against politicians like Senator Farley. You just heard her completely parrot NV Energy’s talking points and we’re going to make sure everyone of her constituents hears interviews like this and understands she’s the problem.”

Playing the Word Game

Of course, renewable energy advocates could learn to play the word game, too. Here’s a few ideas, without the high cost of a consultant.

Instead of… Use…
Utility Incumbent monopoly
Fixed charge Monopoly protection fee
Cost-shift Non-monopoly benefits
Baseload generation Inflexible generation

Some of these terms may seem ridiculous, but no more so that “private solar.”

Keep your eyes open and mind ready. The Lexicon Project may play games with words, but the utilities are deadly serious. The simple fact of the matter is that customer-owned energy is competitive,[6] and monopolies ought not to be allowed to quash it by language or by practice.

This post originally published at[7]. Subscribe to our weekly Energy Democracy update[8] or follow us on Twitter[9] or Facebook[10].

Photo Credit: Nic McPhee, Flickr[11] via CC 2.0[12]

  1. Lexicon Project:
  2. evidence to the contrary:
  3. distributed generation is under fire:
  4. this story from January on KNPR:
  5. After several months of back and forth:
  6. customer-owned energy is competitive,:
  8. Energy Democracy update:
  9. Twitter:
  10. Facebook:
  11. Nic McPhee, Flickr:
  12. CC 2.0:

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Major Media Outlets Cover 6th Circuit Decision Limiting Local Authority

by Rebecca Toews | August 15, 2016 11:40 am

Various Sources, August 10-11, 2016

A circuit court decision this week means the digital divide in Tennessee and North Carolina will be allowed to continue. This week, the 6th Circuit Court of appeals decided to dismiss the FCC’s decision to encourage Internet investment by restricting local authority to build competitive Internet networks.

In February, ILSR and Next Century Cities filed an Amicus Brief in support of the FCC’s position. Here is a selection of media stories which cite ILSR.

MEDIA COVERAGE – “Court of Appeals Overrules FCC Decision”

washingtonpostlogo.gif[1]Cities looking to compete with large Internet providers just suffered a big defeat[2] – by Brian Fung: The Washington Post, August 10

There are signs, however, that municipal broadband proponents were anticipating Wednesday’s outcome — and are already moving to adapt. One approach? Focus on improving cities’ abilities to lay fiber optic cables that then any Internet provider can lease; so far, only one state, Nebraska, has banned this so-called “dark fiber” plan, said Christopher Mitchell, who directs the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

“We’re pursuing strategies that are harder for the cable and telephone companies to defeat,” said Mitchell.

fiercetelecom[3]Circuit court nixes FCC’s effort to overturn North Carolina, Tennessee anti-municipal broadband laws[4] by Sean Buckley: Fierce Telecom, August 10, 2016


However, pro-municipal broadband groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which filed an amicus brief in support of the FCC’s position, said they are “disappointed that the FCC’s efforts to ensure local Internet choice have been struck down.”


POLITICO NO LINES[5]Court Deals FCC a Big Blow in Municipal Broadband Ruling[6] by Alex Byers, PoliticoPro August 10, 2016 (subscription needed)



For now, proponents of the FCC’s order said they would work state-by-state to change laws restricting municipal broadband networks. Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute For Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks program, said the FCC order highlighted the issue and inspired other communities.

“The FCC may have lost the case but they’ve still done a service for America,” Mitchell said. “In making the decision that was later overturned, they certainly elevated the issue.”

2000px-Chicago_Tribune_logo.svg[7]Analysis: The government just lost a big court battle over public Internet service[8] by Brian Fung: Chicago Tribune, August 11, 2016



motherboard[9]Congress Should Support Community Broadband Networks, Advocates Say[10] by Sam Gustin: Motherboard Vice, August 11, 2016




“I would love to see renewed enthusiasm around this bill, and I would love to see it pass,” Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told Motherboard. But with Republicans currently in control of both the House and the Senate, Booker’s bill has virtually no chance of becoming law, especially given the tremendous amount of political influence wielded by the likes of Comcast and AT&T, Mitchell said. He warned that even if the legislation moved forward, industry-friendly lawmakers could try to weaken the bill or insert anti-community broadband provisions… “With the GOP in control, Marsha Blackburn would crush this legislation,” Mitchell said. “That’s why she gets more money from the cable and telecom industry than anyone else. She would make sure it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Daily_Dot_logo[11]U.S. court rules FCC lacks authority to upend state bans on community-run broadband[12] – by Aaron Sankin: Daily Dot, August 11, 2016


Last year, the FCC made a bold push to let cities and counties around the county make significant investments in their high-speed internet infrastructure. On Wednesday, a trio of federal judges dealt that effort a major setback…

“We thank the FCC for working so hard to fight for local authority and we hope that states themselves will recognize the folly of defending big cable and telephone monopolies and remove these barriers to local investment,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Communities desperately need these connections and must be able to decide for themselves how to ensure residents and businesses have high quality Internet access.”

statescoop ss-black[13]Federal court blocks FCC efforts to protect municipal broadband expansion[14] by Alex Koma: StateScoop, August 11, 2016




Indeed, Chris Mitchell — director of the community broadband initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — argues that “states have gotten away with pulling a fast one in terms of lying about their intentions,” claiming that the matter isn’t so easily dismissed as a question of federalism.

“The challenge is understanding whether these states are regulating their cities or regulating interstate commerce, as the FCC argued, and I think that these states are clearly trying to regulate internet access, as opposed to just what these cities could do,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think the court really got that.”


broadcasting and cable logo[15]Next Steps Pondered After Muni Cable Ruling[16] by Gary Arlen: Broadcasting and Cable, August 11, 2016





“Once there’s light shined on those laws, enough state legislators will decide it’s time to stand up to the incumbents,” said Mark C. Del Bianco, an attorney who represented Next Century Cities and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, two advocacy groups that supported the efforts of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to build competitive high-speed networks for their citizens.”


  1. [Image]:
  2. Cities looking to compete with large Internet providers just suffered a big defeat:
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  4. Circuit court nixes FCC’s effort to overturn North Carolina, Tennessee anti-municipal broadband laws:
  5. [Image]:
  6. Court Deals FCC a Big Blow in Municipal Broadband Ruling:
  7. [Image]:
  8. Analysis: The government just lost a big court battle over public Internet service:
  9. [Image]:
  10. Congress Should Support Community Broadband Networks, Advocates Say:
  11. [Image]:
  12. U.S. court rules FCC lacks authority to upend state bans on community-run broadband:
  13. [Image]:
  14. Federal court blocks FCC efforts to protect municipal broadband expansion:
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  16. Next Steps Pondered After Muni Cable Ruling:

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For Rural Pinetops, Being A Gigabit Community Means Business In North Carolina

by ILSR Admin | August 12, 2016 5:00 am

Unless you live in a rural community, you probably assume becoming a Gigabit community is all about the miracles of speed. Speed is important, but so is Internet choice, reliable service, and respectful customer service. It’s also about being excited as you consider future economic opportunities for your rural town.

Businesses Struggling With Old Services

Before Greenlight began serving Pinetops, the best community members could get was sluggish Centurylink DSL. Suzanne Coker Craig, owner of CuriosiTees, described the situation for her business[1]:

Suzanne used to be a subscriber to Centurylink DSL service at her Pinetops home, but years ago she just turned it off. “We weren’t using it because it used to take forever; it just wasn’t viable.” She now has Greenlight’s 40 Mbps upstream and downstream service. “It’s just so very fast,” she said.

Her business, a custom screen printing shop, uses an “on-time” inventory system, so speed and reliability is critical for last-minute or late orders:

“We work with a Charlotte company for our apparel. If we get our order in by 5 p.m. from here, the next day it will be delivered. That’s really important for business.” Before Greenlight, Suzanne described how “We had been sweating it out.”  Suzanne’s tee-shirt store only had access to 800 Kbps DSL upload speed. She would talk to the modem. “Please upload by 5 p.m. Please upload.” Now she can just go home and put her order in at the last minute. “We are comfortable it will upload immediately….It’s just so much faster. Super fast…Having Greenlight has just been very beneficial for our business.”

She also subscribes to Greenlight from home and her fiber connection is able to manage data intense uploads required for sending artwork, sales reports, and other large document transfers. As a Town Commissioner, Suzanne sees Greenlight service in Pinetops as more than just a chance to stop “sweating it out.”

“I just see a brighter future for our town now,” she reflected. “It’s a neat selling point. It’s difficult in small rural areas to get good technology-based companies. This now opens the door for us to recruit just those kinds of businesses…It’s hard to imagine a business that does not need Internet access.”

Without Reliability, Speed Is Nothing


Brent Wooten is a sales agent and Manager for Mercer Transportation, a freight management business with an office in tiny, rural Pinetops, North Carolina[2]. Pinetops is now served by Wilson’s community-owned[3], Gigabit fiber network, Greenlight[4].  Brent’s work, moving freight across the country via trucks, requires being on time; he’s an information worker in a knowledge economy.  “I am in the transportation business,” said Brent. “Having reliable phone and Internet are critical to running my businesses.” Being off line means losing businesses and never getting it back.

Before Greenlight came to town, Brent’s business paid Centurylink $425 per month for a few phone lines, long distance, an 800 number, and Internet access at 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1.5 Mbps upload. He was also wasting hours and even days each month trying to get his Internet fixed. “Every time they would tell me the problem was my equipment. It was always my fault.” But Brent had an IT expert on hire. “Never once was the problem actually my equipment.” He described long waits to reach customer agents whose heavy foreign accents made communication difficult and about the company’s unresponsive office hours. “I was told they could send someone the next afternoon, but I needed the network to work now….”

Brent’s experience with Greenlight was the complete opposite. When Brent’s corporate office changed the location of their backup servers, Greenlight staff were helping him at 6:00 a.m. and at 10:00 p.m., and were on the phone within seconds of his call. “It is a very refreshing situation for me — the consistency of service, and the responsive and respectful customer service by local workers.”

Internet Choice

When Greenlight came to the community, Centurylink changed their tune. Within hours of his business phone being ported to Greenlight, a Centurylink representative called him. “He offered to cut my current prices in half and double my Internet speed, from 10 to 20 Mbps…My Centurylink 10 Mbps speed never tested at more than 6 Mbps.”

Brent chose to keep his Centurylink phone service, but he kept his 25 Mbps symmetrical Greenlight Internet service because upload speed is critical to his business. “My computer screens don’t freeze up anymore. Greenlight service is flawless. The sheer speed of fiber is amazing and they are available 24 hours a day, I am served by local workers, it is saving me money and I get better service.”

Greenlight brought Brent residential telephone and internet choice for the first time in more than a decade. “Greenlight saves me $140 a month at home,” he bragged. When Greenlight’s marketing director first arrived at Brent’s house, he learned Brent was being charged twice for his internet service. Brent had an in-law suite attached to his house where his mother used to live. “The Centurylink representative on the phone said I needed to have a second DSL account.” Not with Greenlight.

An Odd Way Of Competing

Brent described how he had been a Centurylink residential customer since 1989. “When I called to cancel my home telephone service, the woman just gave me my confirmation number and told me to have a nice day.” No attempt was made to keep Brent’s residential business.  “They did the same thing on my mom’s phone line. She had telephone service since before 1968.” When she passed away, Brent called to disconnect her line. “The person on the other end of the line did not even offer condolences.” He compared that to the human touch that originates from a service company that is community owned: “Greenlight’s installers even cared enough about my welfare to tell me they had discovered a water leak under my house when doing the installation. They told me they would have tried to fix it for me but they did not have the right tools.”

The Intangibles

How do you put a value on the intangibles?  For Brent Wooten, Greenlight fiber service has not only strengthened his ability to do business, but has given the community a sense of hope that didn’t exist before access to fiber.


“As a citizen and Town Commissioner, I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to have access to this service, and super excited about future opportunities that it will make available to us. It is an example of hometown people who care about serving you and bringing a higher quality of living to the community…It gives a sense of hope for Eastern North Carolina … not just lip service.”

Will It Last?

On August 10, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the FCC ruling[5] that permitted Greenlight to expand to its fiber-optic service to Pinetops. What this means for these businesses and residents who now rely on fast, affordable, reliable Internet access remains to be seen. Along with Suzanne, Brent, and the rest of Pinetops, we hope Greenlight is able to continue to serve this rural community. They are using fiber to reach for new economic development opportunities and in only a few months, the community of 1,300 is optimistic about a future with better connectivity.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[6]

  1. described the situation for her business:
  2. Pinetops, North Carolina:
  3. now served by Wilson’s community-owned:
  4. Greenlight:
  5. reversed the FCC ruling:
  6. here:

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Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies

by Stacy Mitchell | August 10, 2016 6:57 am


Monopoly Report Cover Image[1]

Click to download the full report.

The United States is much less a nation of entrepreneurs than it was a generation ago. Small, independent businesses have declined sharply in both numbers and market share across many sectors of the economy.  Between 1997 and 2012, the number of small manufacturers fell by more 70,000, local retailers saw their ranks diminish by about 108,000, and the number of community banks and credit unions dropped by half, from about 26,000 to 13,000.  At the same time, starting a new business appears to have become harder than ever. The number of startups launched annually has fallen by nearly half since the 1970s.

As stunning as these figures are, there has been remarkably little public debate about this profound structural shift taking place in the U.S. economy. We tend to accept the decline of small business as the inevitable result of market forces. Big companies are thought to be more efficient and productive; therefore, although we may miss the corner drugstore or the family-owned auto repair shop, their demise is unavoidable, and it’s economically beneficial.

But our new report[2] suggests a different, and very troubling, explanation for the dwindling ranks of small businesses. It presents evidence that their decline is owed, at least in part, to anticompetitive behavior by large, dominant corporations.  Drawing on examples in pharmacy, banking, telecommunications, and retail, it finds that big companies routinely use their size and their economic and political power to undermine their smaller rivals and exclude them from markets.

These abuses have gone unchecked because of a radical change in the ideological framework that guides anti-monopoly policy. About thirty-five years ago, policy-makers came to view maximizing efficiency — rather than maintaining fair and open markets for all competitors — as the primary aim of antitrust enforcement. This was a profound departure from previous policy and America’s long-standing anti-monopoly tradition.  Over time, this ideological shift impacted more than antitrust enforcement. It infused much of public policy with a bias in favor of big business, creating an environment less and less hospitable to entrepreneurs.

This report presents three compelling reasons to bring a commitment to fair and open markets for small businesses back into antitrust enforcement and public policy more broadly:

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Composting Will Help Flint Recover From Its Water Crisis

by Linda Bilsens | August 9, 2016 2:00 pm

It would be an understatement to say that Flint has been in the news a lot lately—one of the most recent stories has to do with a lapsed trash collection contract[1] that left residents without service. The city still has a long road ahead before it can fully heal from the water contamination crisis that started in 2014: more than 8,000 children[2] are thought to have been effected; 6 city officials have just been charged[3] in connection; and Flint’s Mayor, Karen Weaver[4], used the podium at the recent Democratic National Convention to remind the nation that “The water is still not safe to drink or cook with from the tap”. Like many older industrial cities, Flint also has lead and other heavy metals in its soils[5], exacerbating the effects of the water crisis. As is often the case, low-income communities are more likely to be exposed to the highest concentrations.

In addition to lead contamination, Flint faces other challenges common to Rust Belt communities: declining industry, rising poverty, falling population, and rampant urban blight. Poverty is a problem throughout Michigan, with 1 in 10 people[6] using emergency food programs. But, more than 40% of Flint’s population is considered to be poor and more than half is black—fueling claims that the water crisis is a clear case of environmental racism[7]. Flint has more than 20,000 vacant lots resulting, at least in part, from the overwhelming loss of manufacturing jobs that once fueled the local economy. In order to prevent further damage to property values and to protect public health, these building must either be demolished[8] or otherwise managed[9] by the community.


      flint highrise

The 2016 Edible Flint Food Garden Tour featured 15 of the 300+ gardens that Edible Flint and other area organizations support


But, behind the devastating national headlines exists another Flint—one that embodies community self-reliance and neighborly collaboration. According to Terry McLean[10], Michigan State University Extension educator, “In my experience, Flint residents have a great track record of volunteerism, resilience and community pride. I feel that we will be a stronger community as a result of the recent water crisis.” Despite the hole that losses like that of the auto manufacturing industry have left, Flint residents are increasingly relying on a different, well-developed local skillset to put food on the table—and because of the work of a number of dedicated organizations and individuals, its fresh and healthy food. Michigan’s second largest industry is agriculture, and it is the second most diverse[11] agricultural producer in the nation. Flint alone boasts more than 300 gardens[12], both personal and community.


Edible Flint Tour - Uni-Corn Garden      Edible Flint Tour - Uni-Corn

Uni-Corn Community Garden, featured in the Edible Flint Tour, is managed by a dedicated team of Master Gardeners and grows fresh produce for the surrounding sub-division and apartment complexes


On July 27th, ILSR staffers, Linda Bilsens and Joshua Etim visited with various food growing and access groups working in and around Flint to lay the groundwork for bringing ILSR’s Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program[13] to the area. ILSR staff were hosted by local friend and fellow community composting trainer and advocate, Amy Freeman, who coordinated meetings with some of the area’s most active and influential healthy food advocates and educators.


“This is a different Flint than the one you hear about on the news. These are not just poor people. There is good stuff happening here. It’s not a dire situation.”

-Erin Caudell, healthy food access advocate, farmer and co-owner of Flint-based The Local Grocer


Michigan State University is providing applied research, education and outreach to develop regionally integrated, sustainable food systems through its Center for Regional Food System[14]. MSU professor of Horticultural Sciences, Dr. John Biernbaum, provides educational programs and technical assistance for small-scale organic farmers and manages the school’s on-site vermicomposting project. Michigan Food and Farming Systems[15] connects beginning and historically underserved farmers (particularly women, veterans, and migrant populations) to each other and resource opportunities to cultivate social justice, environmental stewardship, and profitability. Edible Flint[16] works to support Flint residents in growing and accessing healthy food in order to reconnect with the land and each other, including hosting an annual garden tour, which ILSR staff were happily able to attend during their visit!


MIFFS WIA high tunnel      MIFFS WIA Vermicompost

The Michigan Food and Farming Systems’ Women in Agriculture educational farm is hosted by the Genesys Health Systems’ at their Health Park Campus and features an in-ground vermicomposting system


The work of groups like these are critical to Flint’s road to recovery. Healthy foods, particularly those rich in Vitamin C and Calcium[17], are needed to minimize the impacts of lead on human health. Recent studies also show that there is limited absorption of lead when ingested with food[18]. The impact of lead contamination is further minimized when soils are amended with compost—a practice that several studies[19] have shown significantly dilute lead concentrations and reduces its availability. Increasing composting in Flint will have many benefits: healthier soils for food production, pollution mitigation for contaminated soils, more opportunities for neighbors to come together, and greater community self-reliance. ILSR is actively fundraising alongside its local partners to bring the benefits of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders program to Flint in 2017 and is thrilled to help support Flint’s homegrown revival.


MSU vermicomposting     

Last year, Michigan State University diverted 200,000 pounds of food scraps generated on-site through its low-tech, mid-scale vermicomposting system

  1. lapsed trash collection contract:
  2. 8,000 children:
  3. just been charged:
  4. Karen Weaver:
  5. in its soils:
  6. 1 in 10 people:
  7. environmental racism:
  8. demolished:
  9. managed:
  10. Terry McLean:
  11. second most diverse:
  12. 300 gardens:
  13. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program:
  14. Center for Regional Food System:
  15. Michigan Food and Farming Systems:
  16. Edible Flint:
  17. Vitamin C and Calcium:
  18. when ingested with food:
  19. several studies:

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“YES!” RS Fiber Wins More Recognition

by ILSR | August 9, 2016 5:00 am

Yes! Magazine[1] – August 3, 2016
Minnesota’s RS Fiber Cooperative[2] is getting well-deserved attention from a variety of sources far beyond the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In addition to kudos from experts in the telecommunications industry, their story was recently shared in YES! Magazine.

Innovative Partnership

On August 1st, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) announced that RS Fiber Cooperative[3] had received that 2016 Community Broadband Innovative Partnership Award. NATOA President Jodie Miller said of this award and the other 2016 distinctions: “These pioneers were selected based on their extraordinary efforts, achievements and innovation in community-based approaches to broadband technology.” NATOA will present the awards in September at their 36th Annual Conference in Austin, Texas.

Earlier this summer, the communities that belong to the co-op were honored with an award[4] from the Minnesota League of Cities.

YES! Magazine Profiles RS Fiber

Ben DeJarnette from YES! Magazine[5] spoke with our Christopher Mitchell about the cooperative:

“I don’t want to say that everyone can do this, but a lot of places could do it if they had this effort,” Mitchell said. “And I don’t think anyone’s going to have to go through the same level of challenge again, because now there’s a model.”

DeJarnette’s article described some the struggles of rural life with poor or absent Internet access based on our report, “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative[6]”: farmers unable to share crop data with business contacts; local businesses with no access to online commerce; and school children with no way to complete online homework assignments. The article explains how the RS Fiber project is helping this collaboration of small rural communities overcome the rural digital divide.


The article also dedicates sufficient coverage to the way the RS Fiber Cooperative is funding their infrastructure build. With no federal funding, and investment from community banks, this project is truly locally grown. From the article:

As long as local demand meets projections, revenue from the broadband network will more than repay government loans, and taxpayers won’t owe a dime.

“That’s the win-win,” said Chris Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, who has studied the project. “It’s a model in which local governments can take on the risk if they’re willing, and local banks can get a very reasonable return.”

The Fifth Utility

Lisa Skubal, vice president of economic development for the Cedar Valley Chamber of Commerce spoke with DeJarnette about the roll that high-quality Internet access plays in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “From an economic development standpoint, fiber optic high-speed Internet is the fifth utility…We live in such a globalized society right now that having broadband connectivity is imperative for businesses.” Last year, President Obama visited the community to highlight the potential of publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

The RS Fiber Cooperative network has already attracted a new endeavor to the region. The Minnesota College of Osteopathic Medicine, attracted by the new fiber network, will be operating out of a building in Gaylord, one of the communities that belong to the co-op.

More On RS Fiber

Learn more about how farmers use this new utility and how the co-op has changed life in rural Minnesota in a recent PBS News Hour video[7], which features RS Fiber and a similar project, in Massachusetts, Wired West.

Get the details on the RS Fiber Cooperative from our report, free to download[8] and to share.

You can also check out our other coverage, including Christopher’s interview with Mark Erickson, City of Winthrop Economic Development Authority Director, and Renville-area farmer Jake Rieke in Episode #198[9] of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We also spoke with Mark and Coop Vice-Chair Cindy Gerholz early in the process during Episode #99[10]. You can find more at the RS Fiber Coop[11] and Sibley County[12] tags.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[13]

  1. Yes! Magazine:
  2. RS Fiber Cooperative:
  3. announced that RS Fiber Cooperative:
  4. were honored with an award:
  5. from YES! Magazine:
  6. RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative:
  7. PBS News Hour video:
  8. free to download:
  9. Episode #198:
  10. Episode #99:
  11. RS Fiber Coop:
  12. Sibley County:
  13. here:

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Missoula Wins Right to Own Its Water Supply

by David Morris | August 4, 2016 10:59 am

In a major victory for the commons, the Montana Supreme Court, by a 5-2 decision, has upheld Missoula’s right to buy its water system from a private company, Nadia Prupis reports[1] in Common Dreams. @commondreams

“The city desired to own the water system that serves its residents because city officials believe a community’s water system is a public asset best owned and operated by the public,” the judges decided[2]. A jubilant Mayor John Engen declared, “Long after people have forgotten any of our names, they won’t have to worry about who owns their water.”

  1. reports:
  2. decided:

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The Next President Will Likely Appoint 4 Supreme Court Justices: Who Do You Want Picking Them?

by David Morris | July 27, 2016 10:25 am

The future of the Supreme Court is at stake in the 2016 election.

We know the numbers. The death of Scalia split the Supreme Court between four Conservative Justices appointed by Republican Presidents (Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy) and four Liberal Justices appointed by Democratic Presidents (Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor.) The Republican Senate, in an unprecedented stance, has refused to call a vote on President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia.

During the next 4 years the new President will likely nominate not only Scalia’s replacement but also an additional 3 new Justices. Since 1971, the average age[1] of retirement for a Supreme Court justice has been just under 79 years. Ginsburg is 83, Kennedy is 80, and Breyer will be 78 in mid August.

The new Justices will set the direction of the Supreme Court and the values that guide it for the next generation. Scalia, after all, was on the court for 30 years before he died. Thomas has been on the court for 25 years and is still only 68.

We know the numbers, but many don’t seem to truly grasp their central importance. The Supreme Court can enable or disable our work. In the last decade the Justices have made it much harder to challenge wealth and power, to nurture the weak and assist the poor, to extend social justice to minorities, to reduce violence, stop discrimination, and defend the right to vote.

One could write a book about the recent work of the Supreme Court but to make concrete the crucial impact of the court on a progressive future, here is a small sample of what the Court has wrought.

Democracy: The Supreme Court’s most infamous and widely discussed intervention occurred in 2010 when it overturned[2] a corporate campaign spending ban first advanced by Teddy Roosevelt. The infamous Citizens United decision allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money, much of it “dark money”, hidden from public scrutiny.

Citizens United changed the nature of American democracy. In the first five years after the decision one billion dollars poured into super PACs, $600 million of which came[3] from just 195 donors and their spouses. Between 2006, before the Court decision, and 2014, after the decision, independent expenditures increased 25 fold.

In 2014 the Court allowed unlimited individual contributions. Both decisions were by a 5-4 vote. Dissenting Justice Breyer predicted[4], “If the court in Citizens United opened a door today’s decision may well open a floodgate.”

And so it has. In 2012 the Republican National Committee and its two Congressional campaign committees spent a total of $657 million. In early 2015 the Koch brothers announced[5] that they and their friends would spend $889 million on the 2016 election. That is buying an awful lot of dirty tricks, non-profit front organizations, lawsuits and, dare I say, candidates.

There is much talk about the need to reverse Citizens United, but that can’t be done through Congress. Only a Constitutional Amendment or a Supreme Court reversal can. The chances of the former are infinitesimal. (more…)[6]

  1. age:
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What if…Your Electric Utility Was a Benefit Corporation?

by Matt Grimley | July 21, 2016 6:00 am

The misunderstandings that from time to time occur between communities and the managers of electric-lighting companies will, to my mind, disappear entirely if the relations between the two are correctly founded on the basis of public control, with corresponding protection to the corporations operating this industry.

More than 100 years ago, standing in front of a crowd of investors, Samuel Insull articulated his vision[1] for a responsive and responsible electric utility.1[2]

Fresh from building his own electric utility empire from Thomas Edison’s companies, Insull wanted his electric industry recognized as a natural monopoly with competition viewed as a threat the public good. Public regulation, he argued, would provide a reasonable and steady profit to the monopoly utility, while economies of scale of power plants would allow the utility company to deliver increasingly inexpensive electricity in service of the public good.

A century later, only half of Insull’s rough vision has come true. Most of today’s investor-owned electric utilities retain their century-old monopoly, but insufficient regulation has often left the public good by the wayside. Instead, investor-owned electric utilities (IOUs) have kept a laser focus on shareholders’ returns. They have built large, unnecessary fossil-fueled power plants[3] when more energy-efficient approaches would cut consumers’ costs. They try to change electric rates in ways that harm the poor and elderly[4], then use public funds to help the indigent pay their bills. They spurn rooftop solar[5] and customer-owned power generation.

In some sense, this behavior is no surprise. The regulatory scheme Insull imagined shaped two key profit motives[6] for utility companies: selling more power and building more infrastructure. But neither makes sense any longer. Electricity demand has leveled off, and distributed, non-utility power generation is often less expensive[7] than relying on utility shareholder capital.

Adding insult to the injury of the public good, investor-owned utilities frequently lobby against legislation in the public interest, from renewable energy[8] to energy efficiency standards[9] to community solar programs[10]. They use their publicly-granted monopoly profits to oppose the public interest.

One new model is emerging, however, that offers an alternative to the traditional investor-owned utility, and aligns with fantasy of Insull’s original vision to simultaneously protect the public good. It’s the B Corp.

Green Mountain Power B-lines into a B Corp

In 2014, one electric utility in Vermont shuffled away from historic investor-owned electric utility trends. Green Mountain Power transformed itself into a B Corp, a designation that cements its commitment to sustainability, transparency and accountability. The certification, administered by nonprofit B Lab, mirrors legislation in most states allowing businesses to become “benefit corporations” that uphold similar goals.

A benefit corporation is an alternative corporate structure[11]. Essentially, it changes the for-profit corporation, which may consider the public interest, into one that legally must pursue greater social goods[12] and regularly report to shareholders on its progress. Failure to do so could trigger a shareholder lawsuit.

It was an easy decision for Green Mountain Power to join the well over 1,000 corporations publicly committed to working toward the public good. The company wanted to “become the Ben and Jerry’s of the utility world,” according to CEO and President Mary Powell[13]. The ice cream giant, also a B Corp based in Vermont, won praise in the late 1980s for putting its social mission on par with its economic goals.

More than anything, Green Mountain Power’s move reflected its embrace of changes (and threats) to the outdated, centralized business model still used by many electric utilities.

But unlike many of its counterparts, Green Mountain Power helped expand net metering across its home state[14]. It also fronts the cost of retrofitting homes with solar and energy efficiency products (paid back via the utility bill)[15] in a program that generates substantial cost savings for households. Green Mountain Power also built one of the nation’s first all-solar microgrids[16], and finances energy storage for customers.

The utility, has mapped out its distribution circuits[17] (shown below) to help solar developers see where’s there’s room to grow. Even while adding more renewable energy to its fuel mix, Green Mountain Power has lowered its electric rates three times in the past four years.

GMP Solar Map[18]

As a vertically-integrated utility, Green Mountain Power controls everything from power plants to the distribution wires that connect to homes. But it decided to turn its gift of monopoly control into the “un-utility,” Powell says[19], to “really become an organization that was fast, fun, and effective.”

It was a culture shift that enabled the change.

Powell works in the same “colorful Costco” of an office as everyone else. Workers can come and go as they please. Everyone understands that the customer is at the core of the business model — a far cry from the conservative culture of most monopoly, investor-owned utilities, which prioritize shareholder value over the public interest in a decentralized renewable energy future.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day,” says Powell.

Like what you’re reading? Listen to our podcast[20] with Mary Powell!

The numbers tell part of the story.

Since Green Mountain Power sealed its B Corp status in late 2014, its net income — a central metric used to gauge the utility’s financial success — has not wavered from its general upward trajectory. The leadership at Green Mountain Power doesn’t expect that to change.

Gaz Metro, the Canadian energy firm that bought Green Mountain Power several years ago, has enjoyed a healthy run so far, Dorothy Schnure, a spokesperson for the Vermont utility, told ILSR in June. But those benefits have not shortchanged customers or the public interest.

“We want to keep a very stable rate path, and we want to earn healthy and stable returns for our investor, which we have done,” Schnure said. “Our approach has been if we serve our customers really well and we delight our customers and we look out for our customers, our investor’s going to be OK.”

GMP Net Income[21]

Green Mountain’s leap to B Corp certification was a natural one. For years before, the utility had focused on policies supporting its customers and their communities. Company leaders insisted on upholding this corporate philosophy through acquisition talks with Gaz Metro a decade ago, when they made clear that the Canadian company’s parent — pipeline operator Enbridge, hotly contested for its environmental impact — needed to stay on the sidelines.

“Before we agreed to that purchase, we did a lot of due diligence in making sure that Gaz Metro’s philosophy would align with ours and that we would be able to continue working as a deeply conscious and socially-conscious entity,” Schnure said. “That’s how we operate and it’s part of what makes us so successful.”

Green Mountain Power might have been well-positioned to pounce on the B Corp process, but that doesn’t mean the utility’s work is done. To keep the certification, it must submit annual reports that support its status — a motivator, Schnure said, for Green Mountain Power to deepen its focus on sustainability and accountability.

B-coming a B Corp

Though Green Mountain Power is still the only utility to secure B Corp status, the path is open to other utilities doing the same. A utility can become a B Corp in any state, and most states offer legal “benefit corporation” designations.

Benefit Corporation State Policy Map.001[22]

Depending on the type of structure a company has, the process for solidifying a commitment to social good may include:

  1. Seeing if its home state has the legal framework to incorporate benefit corporations. To date, 30 states and the District of Columbia[23] have adopted such legislation.
  2. Following the state process to become a benefit corporation. This usually includes amending its governing documents, then sealing support from a majority of shareholders to ratify the change.2[24] State filing requirements for these amendments are usually identical to tweaks related to any other corporate structure.
  3. Seeking the rigorous B Corp certification from B Lab[25], with or without the legal structure of a benefit corporation. The differences between a benefit corporation and a B Corp are listed here[26]. Hint: the legal structure and certification are complementary.

There are more than 3,000 benefit corporations in the world. Of those, there are more than 1,600 benefit corporations registered as B Corps, spanning 42 countries and 120 industries.

B-lieving the Difference a B Corp Makes

Benefit corporations must do things differently than their brethren. If every utility were a benefit corporation, a number of utility actions over the past year might have played out differently. Note that this is not a wish list — benefit corporations must consider public goods.

Structuring as a B Corp or a benefit corporation isn’t a perfect antidote, even for companies considered beacons in the movement like Green Mountain Power. The Vermont utility has fielded blowback in the spring from people who live near an industrial wind project that one critic said[27] is noisy enough to drive down their quality of life and erode home values.

In a letter to the editor[28] published in the Manchester Journal, she questioned whether Green Mountain Power was responsibly building wind infrastructure, or if the the company was simply expanding its power-producing assets to boost its bottom line — a familiar strategy for investor-owned utilities.

Still, the B Corp and benefit corporation designations send a notable message and carry an unmistakable upside that — if widely adopted in the entrenched energy industry — could improve the way utilities engage with consumers.

For example, under a benefit corporation structure, it would have been tougher for NV Energy to lobby the Nevada Public Utilities Commission in 2015 to cut net metering rates[29], including a controversial retroactive measure that reduced reimbursement rates for already-installed projects.

Beyond triggering smaller payments for more than 17,000 Nevadans, the move pushed several solar developers out of the state. The utility justified its campaign by pointing to costs of net metering, but as a benefit corporation, it would have had to also factor in widely acknowledged benefits. Instead of lobbying to cut solar energy, the utility could have fought for it.

Then, in spring 2016, the Public Service Commission in Washington D.C. voted 2 to 1 to approve Exelon’s merger with Pepco — a decision that defied the mayor, numerous stakeholders and even its own prior order[30]. Mergers aren’t unusual in the utility world, especially after the past two decades of unraveling anti-monopoly legislation.

But the consolidation trend exposes conflicts between public and private interests[31], showcasing the toll these deals can take on the public. With Exelon and Pepco, most criticism boiled down to Exelon needing to support its own generation with Pepco’s captive customers. Still, after a two-year fight, the transaction was finalized in June. Opponents plan to sue[32].

Given a benefit corporation law such as the one in play in Delaware — the most common place for U.S. businesses to incorporate — Exelon and Pepco directors would have had to consider all corporate constituencies[33] in their merger application, not just stockholders and the highest bidder.

And then there’s Xcel Energy. After more than three years, and with almost 1,000 applications in the queue, the utility’s community solar program[34] has only three solar garden up and running[35].

Calling it a “slow start” is understatement that sidesteps Xcel’s delay tactics. First, the utility rejected a value-of-solar pricing program[36] intended for the community solar gardens. Then it refused to answer developer questions about grid location and muddied co-location rules of projects. Even after it started approving applications, Xcel continues to keep technical and financial information[37] from community solar developers.

A community solar law took effect in 2013, but has been slowed down by Xcel Energy ever since. A benefit corporation likely wouldn’t have waited this long. By force of its structure, it could have prioritized the public benefit of the value-of-solar methodology. It could have treated the grid as a commons, freeing up information to solar developers — like Green Mountain Power did[38] — instead of flexing its monopoly power.

It’s not that slapping a B-Corp label on a utility will make it good, but it will give the public additional leverage to demand the utility consider broader interests than its own.

Digging B-low the Surface

A shift toward the B Corp mindset aligns with a swell of public support for rules that favor energy efficiency and increased reliance on renewables. Largely over the past two decades, lawmakers in states nationwide have adopted standards for efficiency and renewable production — both key tools in the fight against climate change.

state energy efficiency[39]

In recent years, Maryland regulators boosted energy savings targets[40] for utilities in their state while California agreed to double its energy efficiency savings[41] goals by 2030. Plus, a recent report[42] from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows states’ aggressive renewables policies — increasingly popular nationwide — deliver distinct benefits without driving up costs.

state res[43]

But it’s not just the public that want electric utilities to change. In the last year, there has been a rash of electric utility shareholder initiatives, all directed toward making their companies more sustainable:

According to a report from the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change[48], electric utilities and their business models face a growing number of liabilities, shown below:

Source: Inves[49]

Source: Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change

Customers and shareholders of electric utilities want them to change in the public interest to address these risks. Regulators want them to change. Legislators are tired of the utilities’ pushback.

Most electric utilities are culturally and structurally reluctant to consider anything beyond shareholder returns, but they don’t have to be. Green Mountain Power shows that there’s a way to reconcile shareholder and the public interest, and that retaining a utility monopoly could make sense even if it’s no longer a natural monopoly[50].

Maybe it’s time for a Plan B.

This article originally posted at[51]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[52] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[53] update.


More Information:

  1. Bradley, Robert Jr., “The Insull Speech of 1898: Call for Public Utility Regulation of Electricity (The origins of EEI’s support for cap-and-trade in today’s energy/climate bill),” Master Resource, April 29, 2010,[54].
  2. The important text added to the governing documents usually includes: “… [The Director] shall give due consideration to the following factors, including, but not limited to, the long-term prospects and interests of the Company and its shareholders, and the social, economic, legal, or other effects of any action on the current and retired employees, the suppliers and customers of the Company or its subsidiaries, and the communities and society in which the Company or its subsidiaries operate, (collectively, with the shareholders, the “Stakeholders” ), together with the short-term, as well as long-term, interests of its shareholders and the effect of the Company’s operations (and its subsidiaries’ operations) on the environment and the economy of the state, the region and the nation.”
  1. articulated his vision:
  2. 1: #Insull
  3. unnecessary fossil-fueled power plants:
  4. in ways that harm the poor and elderly:
  5. spurn rooftop solar:
  6. shaped two key profit motives:
  7. distributed, non-utility power generation is often less expensive:
  8. renewable energy:
  9. energy efficiency standards:
  10. community solar programs:
  11. alternative corporate structure:
  12. pursue greater social goods:
  13. according to CEO and President Mary Powell:
  14. expand net metering across its home state:
  15. retrofitting homes with solar and energy efficiency products (paid back via the utility bill):
  16. all-solar microgrids:
  17. mapped out its distribution circuits:
  18. [Image]:
  19. Powell says:
  20. Listen to our podcast:
  21. [Image]:
  22. [Image]:
  23. 30 states and the District of Columbia:
  24. 2: #governing
  25. B Corp certification from B Lab:
  26. here:
  27. one critic said:
  28. a letter to the editor:
  29. cut net metering rates:
  30. defied the mayor, numerous stakeholders and even its own prior order:
  31. conflicts between public and private interests:
  32. plan to sue:
  33. consider all corporate constituencies:
  34. community solar program:
  35. only three solar garden up and running:
  36. rejected a value-of-solar pricing program:
  37. keep technical and financial information:
  38. like Green Mountain Power did:
  39. [Image]:
  40. boosted energy savings targets:
  41. double its energy efficiency savings:
  42. a recent report:
  43. [Image]:
  44. submitted a proposal:
  45. for the to company consider sea level rise:
  46. voted for a resolution:
  47. 40 percent of Entergy shareholders:
  48. report from the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change:
  49. [Image]:
  50. no longer a natural monopoly:
  52. Twitter:
  53. Energy Democracy weekly:

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California Weighs Fair Pricing for Distributed, Centralized Energy

by John Farrell | July 18, 2016 6:00 am

This article published with the substantial assistance of ILSR intern, McKenna Eckerline.

Everyone hates paying for something that they don’t use (how many cable channels do you have?). In California, local electricity customers may finally get satisfaction about paying for the transmission grid capacity that they don’t use.

At issue is an obscure pricing mechanism known as Transmission Access Charges[1]. These charges are meant to capture the cost of delivering power to customers, but the fees don’t distinguish between distant or local energy sources. So a customer pays a transmission fee on all the power they consume, whether it was produced next door or 500 miles away.

With this problematic pricing mechanism, the charges don’t decline when a customer’s on-site or nearby power generation increases, even though such distributed power generation doesn’t use the greater transmission system. The fees are substantial, adding as much as 3¢ per kilowatt-hour to the cost of distributed energy. Plus, the more Californians install solar technology and reduce demand for long-distance power transmission, the less these charges make any sense.

Getting Traction for Fair Pricing

Beginning in 2009, Southern California’s Clean Coalition began fighting the economic disparity between transmission use and transmission costs, and the seven-year campaign has finally garnered the attention of the Golden State’s transmission manager, or Independent System Operator, CAISO. For the first time, the system operator is inviting[2] stakeholder[3] comments[4] on the issue.

Instead of basing access charges on the amount of electricity a customer consumes (end-use metered customer load [EUML]), the Clean Coalition proposes that California utilities derive transmission assessments on Transmission Energy Downflow (TED), a measure of how much electricity actually travels on the transmission system to reach the customer. Switching to this more accurate measure would result in immediate savings for customers that rely more on distributed energy resources, and it would also bring about institutional change. In grid planning, the current charge discriminates against distributed energy projects that can lower grid costs by delivering power with technology like solar, for example, near demand. The following graphic illustrates this phenomena.

On the left, a centralized project has a lower bid in the “least cost best fit” analysis because the system operator is ignoring actual transmission costs and instead applies the charges to all customers regardless of their usage. On the right, the fair application of transmission fees means that the distributed energy project wins along with customers.

Graphic Courtesy of Clean Coalition[5]

Graphic Courtesy of Clean Coalition[6]

Big Savings from Fair Pricing

The fair playing field would reduce demand for unnecessary and expensive transmission expansion in the long run, saving California customers as much as 3¢ per kilowatt-hour, an average of about $200 per year. The reduced demand for transmission would also mean better utilization of existing grid capacity, more distributed energy (like solar), and fewer fights over the use of eminent domain to take private land for transmission towers.

Apart from reaping benefits for consumers, the proposed switch to more accurate transmission pricing would also remove perverse incentives where investor-owned utilities that are choosing between centralized and distributed projects are financially rewarded for expanding transmission infrastructure (by getting a return on their investment for building more transmission).

Fair and Consistent Pricing

The change to more accurate transmission pricing isn’t novel. Already, California municipal utilities and others that do not own transmission lines are billed for transmission access based on actual instead of aggregate use. Adopting the rule for utilities that own transmission would advance accounting accuracy and align policy across utility service territories.

The policy change many also help remedy a national bias toward transmission building, encouraged by incentives provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for transmission expansion[7], even when more cost-effective alternatives are not considered.

Transmission Access Charges may be an obscure pricing concept, but getting it right is a golden opportunity for the Golden State to use fairer pricing to make the most efficient use of its electric grid.

Want to stay informed or get involved?

This article originally posted at[11]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[12] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[13] update.

Photo Credit: Dennis Wilkerson via Flickr[14]

  1. Transmission Access Charges:
  2. inviting:
  3. stakeholder:
  5. [Image]:
  6. Clean Coalition:
  7. incentives provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for transmission expansion:
  8. Subscribe:
  9. Josh Valentine:
  10. Katie Ramsey:
  12. Twitter:
  13. Energy Democracy weekly:
  14. Dennis Wilkerson via Flickr:

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Montgomery Co. MD Bill Requires Distributed Composting

by Brenda Platt | July 14, 2016 2:25 pm

On June 28, 2016, Montgomery County Council (Maryland) Vice President, Roger Berliner, introduced legislation to require the development of a comprehensive composting and food recovery strategic plan. The bill might be the first in the country to stipulate a diverse and distributed plan that considers food rescue, backyard composting, community scale composting, on-site institutional and commercial composting, on-farm composting, local use of compost to support soil health and the County’s stormwater management program, and more.

ILSR worked closely with Council member Berliner, his staff, and the Montgomery County Food Council in crafting the bill. The “Strategic Plan to Advance Composting and Food Waste Diversion” (Bill 28-16[1]) requires the Director of the Department of Environmental Protection to develop the strategic plan by July 1, 2017, and to submit an annual report each year documenting progress towards achieving the goals of the plan.

The bill already has the endorsement of six of the nine Council members. Joining Council member Roger Berliner in supporting the bill are: Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro, Hans Riemer.

A public hearing on the bill will take place Tuesday, July 19th at 1 pm. The hearing will be held in Rockville, Maryland, in the Third Flooring Hearing Room of the Council Office Building (1000 Maryland Ave). Go to public hearings webpage[2] for information on how to submit written testimony to the County Council or to sign up to testify in person.


  1. Bill 28-16:
  2. public hearings webpage:

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The Secrets Behind Partnerships to Improve Internet Access

by Rebecca Toews | July 14, 2016 11:15 am

placeholder[1]A growing number of US cities have broken up monopoly control of the Internet marketplace locally. They’re promoting entrepreneurship, and giving residents and businesses real choice in how they connect and reach new audiences. They’ve brought a new wrinkle to an old model: the public-private partnership.

“Communities desperately need better Internet access, but not all local governments are bold enough to ‘go it alone,'” says Christopher Mitchell with Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Here, we’ve outlined a few remarkable cities who have demonstrated how smart strategies are helping them help themselves.”

A city that builds its own fiber and leases it to a trusted partner can negotiate for activities that benefit the public good, like universal access. It may even require (as Westminster, Maryland did) that the partner ISP have real human beings answer the phone to solve a customer’s problems.

The term “public-private partnership” has been muddied in the past. This report clears up the confusion: public entities and private companies must both have “skin in the game” to balance the risks and amplify the rewards.

Inside “Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships”[2]

VIDEO: Westminster & Ting: The How and the Why[3]



Read the guide to implementing successful public-private partnerships for fiber.




  1. [Image]:
  2. Inside “Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships”:
  3. VIDEO: Westminster & Ting: The How and the Why:
  4. [Image]:
  6. (more…):

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How to Make a Political Revolution

by David Morris | July 5, 2016 9:13 am

On June 14th, North Dakotans voted to overrule their government’s decision to allow corporate ownership of farms. That they had the power to do so was a result of a political revolution that occurred almost exactly a century before, a revolution that may hold lessons for those like Bernie Sanders’ supporters who seek to establish a bottom-up political movement in the face of hostile political parties today.

Here’s the story. In the early 1900s North Dakota was effectively an economic colony of Minneapolis/Saint Paul. A Saint Paul based railroad tycoon controlled its freight prices. Minnesota companies owned many of the grain elevators that sat next to the rail lines and often cheated farmers by giving their wheat a lower grade than deserved. Since the flour mills were in Minneapolis, shipping costs reduced the price wheat farmers received. Minneapolis banks held farmers’ mortgages and their operating loans to farmers carried a higher interest than they charged at home.

Farmers, who represented a majority of the population, tried to free themselves from bondage by making the political system more responsive. In 1913 they gained an important victory when the legislature gave them the right, by petition, to initiate a law or constitutional amendment as well as to overturn a law passed by the legislature.

But this was a limited victory for while the people could enable they could not compel.

In 1914, for example, after a 30-year effort, voters authorized the legislature to build a state-owned grain elevator and mill. But in January 1915 a state legislative committee concluded[1] it “would be a waste of the people’s money as well as a humiliating disappointment to the people of the state.” The legislature refused funding.

A few weeks later, two former candidates on the Socialist Party ticket, Arthur C. Townley and Albert Bowen, launched a new political organization, the Non Partisan League (NPL). The name conveyed their strategy: To rely more on program-based politics than party-based politics. According to the NPL its program intended to end the “utterly unendurable” situation in which “the people of this state have always been dependent on their existence on industries, banks, markets, storage and transportation facilities either existing altogether outside of the state or controlled by great private interests outside the state.”

The NPL’s platform contained concrete and specific measures: state ownership of elevators, flour mills, packing houses and cold storage plants; state inspection of grain grading and dockage; state hail insurance; rural credit banks operating at cost; exemption of farm improvements from taxation.

In his recent book, Insurgent Democracy[2] Michael Lansing explains, “Small-property holders anxious to use government to create a more equitable form of capitalism cannot be easily categorized in contemporary political term.” The NPL “reminded Americans that corporate capitalism was not the only way forward.” Supporters of the NPL wanted state sponsored market fairness but not state control. They wanted public options, not public monopolies. (more…)[3]

  1. concluded:
  2. Insurgent Democracy:
  3. (more…):

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Liberty and the Farm: Internet Access

by ILSR | July 2, 2016 5:45 am

The 4th of July invites us to celebrate the accomplishments of our country. But, 23 million people in rural areas[1] remain without high-speed Internet access.

Rural areas cannot stay unconnected. Agriculture has become a high-tech endeavor, and high-speed Internet access is necessary. Cooperatives, those democratic institutions formed by rural farmers years ago, are becoming an answer.

The Founding Fathers considered rural communities the life-blood of the country. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Jay[2], stated that:

“[C]ultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. they are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bands.”

High-Speed Internet Access Supports Agriculture

The Missouri Farmer Today recently wrote of the sorry state of rural Internet access[3] for one family-owned business in Missouri, the Perry Agricultural Laboratory[4]. They process soil samples and perform other agricultural testing for both local and international customers but the best connections available are via satellite. The lab constantly goes over its data cap and sometimes cannot send their reports to customers across the globe if the weather interferes with their signal. A high-speed cable runs along the edge of the property, but the company would have to pay $40,000 to connect to it.

The cost to build high-speed networks in rural areas is a familiar one. By banding together, members of cooperatives – whether electric, telephone[5], or Internet[6] co-op – strengthen their position and gain the leverage to build networks that will ensure they aren’t left behind. The Missouri Farmer Today also interviewed Jim Gann, the director of business development with the University of Missouri’s office of the Vice Provost for Economic Development. Gann spoke to the success of Co-Mo Electric’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project:

“We believe that in the economy of the future, where you are physically located is less of an issue than it’s ever been before.”

Co-Mo Electric Cooperative Brings FTTH to Rural Areas

At MuniNetworks, we have followed the story of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative[7] since the beginning of their project in 2012. After being passed over for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding twice, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative decided that its members in the rural Ozarks of Missouri could no longer wait for high-speed Internet access. They began a FTTH project, Co-Mo Connect[8] that is now nearing completion. The project will ensure that all the electric cooperative’s members have high-speed Internet access. Co-Mo Connect is now on its 4th and final phase[9]. You can listen to Christopher interview Randy Klindt from the co-op in episode #140[10] of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Watch this video featured by the Co-Mo Electric Cooperative about the importance of electric cooperatives for rural communities and democracy. Electric cooperatives now have the potential to bring next-generation, future-proof infrastructure to rural communities across the U.S.



Photo credit: woodleywonderworks[11], Creative Commons license[12]

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[13]

  1. 23 million people in rural areas:
  2. in a letter to John Jay:
  3. the sorry state of rural Internet access:
  4. Perry Agricultural Laboratory:
  5. telephone:
  6. Internet:
  7. we have followed the story of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative:
  8. Co-Mo Connect:>
  9. its 4th and final phase:>
  10. episode #140:
  11. woodleywonderworks:
  12. license:
  13. here:

Source URL:

Local Utilities Have Lost Local Control

by John Farrell | June 23, 2016 6:00 am

This post made possible by the tireless efforts of ILSR intern Abbigail Feola. She dug up the data, identified the story worth sharing, and wrote the following piece below.

Historically, the purpose of both municipal and cooperative utility agencies has been to bring energy services to communities that for-profit corporations thought unprofitable to serve. This philosophy of self-reliance shifted the focus from profit margins towards social goods, and persists today. Municipal utilities are owned by and located in the cities they serve; their primary interest is not the welfare of their investors, but of their city or town. Likewise, cooperatives are owned and run by their members, people with strong social, environmental, financial, and cultural stakes in the activities of the cooperative.

But the ways in which municipal and cooperative utilities procure power undermine this ethic of community service and self-reliance.

Most municipal utilities have long-term contracts to purchase power from joint action agencies, and cooperative utilities from generation and transmission cooperatives. Utilities pursue these long-term contracts to obtain favorable interest rates and credit ratings from the finance industry. Even the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association states[1], “Since the wholesale power contract serves as the basic foundation for G&T [generation and transmission cooperative] financing, and since a multiplicity of stakeholders (such as lenders, regulators, or trustees, for example) have approval rights on any modifications to the contracts, it is nearly impossible to side-step the provisions of all-requirements wholesale power contracts in accessing and using power from sources other than the G&T.” In other words, financiers give better deals for financing big, new power plants when the local utilities are legally obligated to buy the power on a very long-term contract.

Click here to see an example of one of the long-term contracts[2]

The more restrictive and longer the term, the less costly it will be to fund energy infrastructure. But the result of this system is a major restriction of utilities’ abilities to operate flexibly and independently. In many cases, small, local utilities are tied into contracts for increasingly-expensive fossil-fuel power for decades, even when they may have options to procure local, renewable electricity at low cost, or with additional local economic benefits.

The loss of local authority, flexibility, and freedom can be solved in whole or part by shifting decision-making authority back to the local level, including expanding options for self-supply.

To understand the current state of the industry and how it could be changed, ILSR contacted various cooperative and municipal utilities, the latter under the Data Practices Act, to collect information on their contract lengths and the costs of electricity paid by utilities. The findings show that decades-long contracts and past and current heavy investments in dirty energy are dramatically limiting utilities’ use of cost-efficient and environment-friendly power sources.

Unwise Investments

The electric industry has always made enormous investments, in the billions of dollars, to generate and transmit electricity. Rising investments in transmission and distribution technology[3], among other factors, have contributed to rising electricity costs. Prior to the last 10 years, rising energy demand allowed utilities to spread these costs over greater sales.

But in the past decade, costs have risen while general demand for electricity (measured in kilowatt-hours, or kWh) has been either unchanging or declining.

The result is higher costs for consumers. For example, Great River Energy, one of Minnesota’s largest generation and transmission cooperatives, made massive investments in coal plants over the past decade, resulting in rising electric costs. (x[4])These include nearly 500 million dollars spent constructing the Spiritwood coal-fired plant, which was shut down due to lack of demand[5].  The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency has a similar cost problem. Due to the low costs of wind and natural gas power and the inflexible operating system of its coal plant Sherco 3, according to its 2015 annual report[6], it is having difficulty recovering the costs of operating the coal plant.

Wholesale Contracts.001[7]


Costs are also rising to comply with environmental regulations, rules that utilities have known about for decades. U.S. environmental policy has steadily been progressing towards stricter air quality control since the 1963 Clean Air Act[8]. This trend continues today, as represented by the impending Clean Power Plan (CPP), a shift towards renewable and carbon-free energy sources which Minnesota has already begun putting into action.  Because of their past heavy investments in coal (in some cases mandated by the federal government) and current investments in natural gas, municipal and cooperative utilities are at a disadvantage. For example, 78% of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s (SMMPA’s) power[9] is from the coal-fired plant Sherco Unit 3, which was built in 1987[10].  Already, utilities have submitted plans to close Sherco units 1 and 2 in 2023 and 2026[11], respectively. Unit 3 may not be far behind.

These stricter governmental regulations mirror shifting consumer preferences and changing economics[12]. Clean energy technologies (such as wind and solar) are currently outpacing coal in economic efficiency[13], and are projected to continue[14] to do so, as the price of coal continues to rise. For the North Dakota and Minnesota generation and transmission company Minnkota, rising coal prices were responsible for ten million dollars[15] (or 11% of the total cost increases) of the company’s rising operating costs in just one fiscal year.  Such cost increases caused electric prices to rise by 60%.

Wholesale Contracts.004[16]

Such rising costs are symptomatic of the continuing conflict between large power providers (with huge sunk costs into aging and costly power plants) and the autonomy and flexibility of local utilities. Increases in demand for renewable and distributed generation, accompanied by unpredictably rising costs of coal and other fossil fuels, make long-term contracts that support centralized generation increasingly burdensome.

Contract Rigidity and Length

These lengthy and demanding power purchase contracts are increasingly a millstone around the necks of utilities in the sea of rising costs and dropping sales.

Wholesale Contracts.002[17]Power agencies or generation and transmission cooperatives require decades-long contracts to ensure that they recover their costs for building massive new power plants. These restrict utilities’ choices in power supplies for the duration of the contract; a very, very long duration. The Northern Municipal Power Agency, for instance, has contracts with its members extending as far as 2055[18], including with the cities of Chaska, Anoka, and Moorhead.  The Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, Western Area Power Administration, and the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency all also have contracts extending through 2050. The majority of Great River Energy’s contracts end in 2045 (source: conversation with utility representatives).  Not only are such contracts unreasonably lengthy, but generation companies can and often make attempts to stretch them out even further than was originally agreed.  For instance, the Florida Municipal Power Association (FMPA) auto-renews its 30-year contracts[19] with its members each year.

Many of these contracts are “all-requirements,” mandating that utilities buy the entirety of their power supply from the power agency or generation and transmission cooperative (or the maximum amount that the company can supply).  These contracts keep local utilities tied to large investments in dirty power sources, and prevent them from increasing the role of locally-owned and/or locally-procured power generation.  Of the twenty-eight cooperative utilities contracted with Great River Energy, twenty were all-requirements[20], with a five percent allowance for locally owned energy. Other utilities featured smaller allowances or none at all, as was the case with all the Minnesota municipal utilities whose data was available.

Wholesale Contracts.003[21]

The Fruits of Freedom

Although most local municipal and cooperative utilities are tied into long-term contracts, a few had the foresight to avoid being tied down. The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), which has no contracts with a generation and transmission cooperative, has installed or is in the process of installing a total of 15.5 MW of solar[22]. In 2002, the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) purchased the utility[23] from for-profit Connecticut-based Citizens Communications.  Due to the import costs of coal, gas, and other resources on the island, Kauai has faced unique pressures in finding alternative sources of energy.  KIUC has set a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2023, and in 2016 reached the mark of 38% renewable energy[24].  The municipal utility in Denton, TX, reached 40% renewable energy supply [25]in 2015.  And after the expiration of its contract in 2012, the town of Georgetown, TX, signed contracts for 100% wind and solar electricity[26] to start in 2017.

Other municipal utilities are taking similar, self-initiated steps towards renewable generation.  The town of Minster in Ohio has utilized its partial-requirements contract to build a solar/storage system consisting of a 3 MW array and a 7 MW battery[27], which is owned by Half Moon Ventures[28].

Rochester Public Utilities (RPU), the largest municipal utility in Minnesota (footnote 1), has opted not to renew its 1978 contract[29] with the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) when it expires in 2030.  Concordantly, Rochester has set a goal of[30] 100% renewable energy by 2031[31]. Encouraging member leadership and participation in renewable generation is a major part of RPU’s plan: the proclamation states that[32] “[a]t the heart of a successful 100% renewables strategy, it is fundamental to allow open participation in the development and financing of energy infrastructure….”.  Rochester’s new arrangement interweaves its freedom to choose with renewable energy accessibility, with each motivating the other.

Farmers Electric Cooperative is an Iowa cooperative utility that generates 1,500 Watts of renewable power per customer[33], more than any other utility and more than double the next utility’s solar capacity per customer. Customers with their own solar arrays receive between 12.5 cents (the retail price) and 20 cents per kWh produced, depending on the amount produced and how it compares to their own consumption. The cooperative has also constructed a 750 kW solar array[34]; only 20% of their power[35] comes from coal.  This success has been possible because only 30% of FEC’s power[36] is sourced with long-term contracts; the rest is purchased from local generation sources on the spot market.

The Potential of Cooperation

Since few cooperative or municipal utilities can exit their long-term contracts easily, flexibility in the short term may require cooperation with their generation and transmission cooperative or power agency.  Such cooperation can allow utilities to  reap the benefits of economies of scale and coordinated action without sacrificing the needs and desires of their members and communities.

For example, generation and transmission cooperative Great River Energy recently helped twenty of its member cooperatives construct small solar arrays[37] in their communities.  On the other hand, GRE constructs and owns[38] these arrays and may be able to use that ownership in future contract extension negotiations.

In another case, three local Minnesota utilities — the Freeborn-Mower Electric Co-operative, People’s Cooperative Services, and Tri-County Electric Cooperative — jointly built a solar array that sells power to Dairyland[39], their generation and transmission cooperative.  As economies of scale are usually optimized around the 500 kW[40] to 1 megawatt[41] for solar arrays, planning around designing solar to connect to the distribution network can save wholesale power utilities and their members[42] time and money.

Cooperation between local utilities can also achieve cost savings.  The Michigan Energy Optimization Collaborative[43] was created by eight cooperatives and four municipal utilities in response to a 2008 law mandating an annual 1% reduction in electricity usage. The Collaborative has streamlined and lowered the cost of compliance through rebates for energy efficient appliances, energy audits, and agricultural programs.  With more local negotiating power behind negotiations with power providers, cooperatives are more able to increase renewable energy and efficient usage — or, as in the case of the town of Niles, to break out of a contract early.

Niles, a town of 7,000 people located in Indiana, estimates that it has been spending 20-30% above the market cost of power in its current contract.  This spurred Niles to partner with ten other utilities to end their contracts with Indiana Michigan Power[44] six years early — in 2020, instead of 2026.   By joining forces, these utilities are managing to renegotiate their contract with a large power agency that may have run roughshod over a single utility’s attempt to renegotiate.


The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), an organization founded in 1895 which works to unite cooperatives worldwide, lists autonomy and independence[45] as key principles through which cooperatives can fulfill their commitments to their members. It does so with good reason.  The achievements of utilities such as Rochester Public Utilities and the smaller Farmers Electric Cooperative show the abilities of local utilities to act in financially and environmentally wise manners when freed from lengthy, restrictive contracts.  The cases of I&M-contracted utilities joining forces to leave their contracts early, as well as three Minnesota utilities’ joint project to sell renewable power back to their power provider, show the successes and potentials of cooperation between local utilities to take on widespread problems.  Local utilities, including their members, must continue to work against financial and legal entrapment by power agencies and generation and transmission cooperatives.  Despite these mentioned successes, there remains much work to be done for the majority of local utilities, still chained to contracts with steadily increasing costs and few means to mitigate them.

This article originally posted at[46]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[47] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[48] update.

Notes on Municipal Utilities, the Data Practices Act, and Transparency

Under the Minnesota Statutes Chapter 13[49], the Data Practices Act, members of the public have rights to access public data free of charge (in certain forms) and in a timely and accessible manner.  These rights [50]include the right to have public data explained and presented in an accessible form; to see and have copies of summary data; and many others, including the most basic and essential right to view public data unless there is a law classifying that data as protected, trade secret, or otherwise non-public. While cooperatives are not subject to the Data Practices Act, municipal utilities, as government organizations, are.

Unfortunately, we found that there was little to no compliance with this act among municipal utilities.  Despite Data Practices Act requests sent to multiple positions (including city clerks, general utility contact addresses, utilities staff members, city council members) associated with more than twenty-five municipal utilities in Minnesota, we received only six responses.  The Data Practices Act was explicitly cited in the majority of these communications, and the reasons for rejection included not knowing the inquirer’s political beliefs.  We regret this inaccessibility and hope that compliance with the Data Practices Act in the future would allow more thorough research on the energy industries in Minnesota.

Here is a link to download the municipal utility contracts that we obtained[51]. It’s worth noting that the barriers we faced may not be unique to Minnesota. Nebraska public utilities are claiming such information is a “trade secret.”[52]

  1. National Rural Electric Cooperative Association states:
  2. Click here to see an example of one of the long-term contracts:
  3. investments in transmission and distribution technology:
  4. x:
  5. shut down due to lack of demand:
  6. according to its 2015 annual report:
  7. [Image]:
  8. has steadily been progressing towards stricter air quality control since the 1963 Clean Air Act:
  9. 78% of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s (SMMPA’s) power:
  10. in 1987:
  11. in 2023 and 2026:
  12. shifting consumer preferences and changing economics:
  13. are currently outpacing coal in economic efficiency:
  14. continue:
  15. ten million dollars:
  16. [Image]:
  17. [Image]:
  18. as far as 2055:
  19. auto-renews its 30-year contracts:
  20. twenty were all-requirements:
  21. [Image]:
  22. installing a total of 15.5 MW of solar:
  23. purchased the utility:
  24. reached the mark of 38% renewable energy:
  25. reached 40% renewable energy supply :
  26. signed contracts for 100% wind and solar electricity:
  27. 3 MW array and a 7 MW battery:
  28. owned by Half Moon Ventures:
  29. its 1978 contract:
  30. has set a goal of:
  31. 100% renewable energy by 2031:
  32. the proclamation states that:
  33. 1,500 Watts of renewable power per customer:
  34. 750 kW solar array:
  35. 20% of their power:
  36. only 30% of FEC’s power:
  37. member cooperatives construct small solar arrays:
  38. constructs and owns:
  39. built a solar array that sells power to Dairyland:
  40. 500 kW:
  41. 1 megawatt:
  42. save wholesale power utilities and their members:
  43. Michigan Energy Optimization Collaborative:
  44. partner with ten other utilities to end their contracts with Indiana Michigan Power:
  45. autonomy and independence:
  47. Twitter:
  48. Energy Democracy weekly:
  49. Minnesota Statutes Chapter 13:
  50. These rights :
  51. link to download the municipal utility contracts that we obtained:
  52. Nebraska public utilities are claiming such information is a “trade secret.”:

Source URL:

Compost Combats Desertification: Download New Poster

by Brenda Platt | June 17, 2016 7:25 am

June 17th is World Day to Combat Desertification. In 1994, the United Nations declared June 17th the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought[1] to promote public awareness of the issue. While the UN focuses on those countries experiencing serious drought or desertification, particularly in Africa, the United States is not immune.

“The dust storms and floods of the last few years have underscored the importance to control soil erosion. I need not emphasize the seriousness of the problem and the desirability of our taking effective action, as a Nation and in the several States, to conserve the soil as our basic asset. The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to all State Governors on a Uniform Soil Conservation Law, Feb. 26, 1937

With almost 30% of U.S. cropland eroding above soil tolerance levels – meaning the long-term ability of the soil to sustain plant growth is in jeopardy! – these words ring as true today as in 1937. FDR was responding to the devastation wreaked by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Today, much of the West remains under severe drought conditions. In the East, we’ve had our share of droughts but extreme storms seem to be reigning lately. Enhancing the ability of soil to retain water, slow stormwater run-off, and resist erosion is vital to life on this planet as we know it.

Fortunately we have one fairly simple solution: amending soil with compost. Compost-amended soil enhances soil properties, stems soil erosion, and protects against soil desertification. In addition, compost converts wasted food and resources into a valuable asset.

In honor of World Day to Combat Desertification, we are re-releasing our popular compost infographic as a series of 13×19” and 18×24” posters.

Composting Enhances Soil and Protects Watersheds[2] Poster (18×23”)


Compost Infographic_FULL

We want you to be able to share these infographics under creative commons license, free of cost.

If you’re publishing on your website, or in one of your publications, please include this sentence:
“The following comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[4] ([5]), a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission.” 

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  1. World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought:
  2. Composting Enhances Soil and Protects Watersheds:
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Ammon’s Model: The Virtual End of Cable Monopolies

by Rebecca Toews | June 15, 2016 11:04 am



The city of Ammon, Idaho, is building the Internet network of the future. Households and businesses can instantly change Internet service providers using a specially-designed innovative portal. This short 20 minute video highlights how the network is saving money, creating competition for broadband services, and creating powerful new public safety applications.

We talk with Ammon’s Mayor, local residents, private businesses, and the city’s technology director to understand why a small conservative city decided to build its own network and then open it to the entire community. We explain how they financed it and even scratch the surface of how software-defined networking brought the future of Internet services to Ammon before any larger metro regions.

Ammon’s network has already won awards, including a National Institute of Justice Challenge for Best Ultra-High Speed Application, and spurred economic development. But perhaps most important is that most communities can replicate this model and bring these benefits to their communities.

For more information, see our in-depth coverage on Ammon[2].

Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[3].  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks[4].

ABOUT COMMUNITY BROADBAND NETWORKS[5] works with communities across the United States to create the policies needed to ensure telecommunications networks serve the community rather than a community serving the network. We publish original news, reports, multimedia, and fact sheets.

Christopher Mitchell[6], the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance works on telecommunications issues — helping communities ensure the networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He has consulted the White House and FCC on publicly owned networks speaks at conferences across the United States on the subject, occasionally to directly debate opponents of public ownership.


We believe we make better and more informed policies when those who design those policies are those who feel their impact.

ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to provide them with innovative strategies and working models that support environmentally sound and equitable economic policies and community development. Since 1974, ILSR has championed local self-reliance, a strategy that underscores the need for humanly scaled institutions and economies and the widest possible distribution of ownership.

  1. [Image]:
  2. Ammon:
  3. Community Broadband Networks:
  4. subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks:
  6. Christopher Mitchell: https:/

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To Lease or To Own Your Solar Array (Infographic)

by Nick Stumo-Langer | June 10, 2016 6:00 am

placeholder[1]Is owning your solar array your best option, or is leasing right for you? Along with our existing Solar Calculators (both complex[2] and simplified[3]), we have this new infographic.

This graphic details the two different ownership structures based around a number of important categories. Please note that solar panels typically carry a 20-year warranty, but most panels are expected to continue producing electricity for 30 years or more.


To Lease or To Own - Final[4]

This article originally published at[5] Sign-up for our newsletter updates[6] and follow us on Facebook[7] and Twitter[8].

  1. [Image]:
  2. complex:
  3. simplified:
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  6. newsletter updates:
  7. Facebook:
  8. Twitter:

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Minnesota Broadband Grant Program Gets Funded, Issues Remain

by ILSR | June 2, 2016 9:22 am

The Minnesota Legislature has just approved $35 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program for fiscal year 2017, the largest annual appropriation in the initiative’s two-year-old history.

But the Legislature’s action still falls short of dramatically helping bring universal, high-speed Internet connectivity to all non-metro Minnesotans. Try to find a Representative or Senator that doesn’t talk about how important rural Internet access is, but compare that list to those who are actually voting for solutions. The Blandin on Broadband website captured a glimpse of this dynamic in a recent post[1].

Nice Gains And Noticeable Failures

The Legislature headed in the right direction this year to increase overall funding for broadband development. But we believe the Legislature’s action, which is moving at a snail’s pace, won’t help thousands of residents and businesses in Minnesota’s non-metro communities hurdle over the connectivity chasm.

The state’s elected leaders also made changes to the program – some good and some bad – in the way projects are selected and the challenge process.

Funding Fizzle? 

First, the funding fizzle. In its first two years, the state awarded about $30 million to 31 Border-to-Border projects. But that has been a miniscule appropriation compared with the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband’s estimate that Minnesota’s unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion[2].

And the Legislature’s $35 million funding for the broadband grant program for the upcoming fiscal year seems particularly paltry given that the state has a projected $900 million budget surplus. [3]

“We are disappointed with the [broadband funding] number and the incredibly restrictive language” on eligibility for grants, said Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, [4](GMNP), a non-metro economic development group established in 2013 that successfully lobbied for the creation of the Broadband Development Grant program.


During the 2016 legislative session, the GMNP supported Gov. Mark Dayton’s recommendation that the broadband program receive $100 million. The DFL-led state Senate favored $85 million for 2016-17 while the Republican controlled House supported spending $15 million. The House wanted to invest far less and argued for keeping most Greater Minnesota Cities ineligible for grant funds. GMNP’s support was contingent on language changes in the statute that would make grant eligibility easier for non-metro cities.

“Without major reforms to the eligibility for funding we assumed it would be difficult to get to the $100 million that Gov. Dayton and Lt. Gov. [Tina] Smith wanted,” Dorman said in an end-of-the session update website post [5]to his members.

Language Issues

Second, the ongoing language challenges with the Border-to-Border Program. “With 85 percent of people living in cities not eligible for [Broadband Development Grant] funding, it’s hard to get people excited [about the program],” Dorman told us. The Partnership; a 90 member group of economic development authorities, foundations, cities, nonprofits, businesses, and Chambers of Commerce; maintains the broadband program’s rules and criteria inadvertently harm the very cities that conceived the program.

Established in 2014, the Broadband Development Grant program was designed to[6] “bring high-speed Internet access to unserved or underserved areas of the state” and help provide opportunities to help existing businesses and attract new ones. The Legislature, in its 2016 legislation, reaffirmed that an unserved area is one where households or businesses lack access to wireline broadband service at speeds that meet the FCC definition of broadband which is 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Because the grant program has focused heavily on unserved areas, it has largely ignored the majority of cities that are “underserved,” those that have some Internet service, albeit poor, Dorman said.

This has created what the Institute for Local Self-Reliance described in our policy paper “Minnesota’s Broadband Program: Getting The Rules Right”[7] as “donut holes,” where a city has much poorer service than its surrounding rural areas.

Our fear is that towns with a moderate level of current business investment could lose that as businesses flock to more rural areas where the Internet infrastructure is better. Other investment would follow and the small cities in Greater Minnesota would find themselves at a disadvantage. It’s an unintended consequence that policy makers need to consider.

Fortunately, lawmakers listened to the GMNP, the Star Tribune, and us[8] as they established rules for funding this session.


In our policy paper, we recommended that the Border-to-Border fund should set some portion – less than half – of its funds aside for applications that would target the underserved population centers and blend them in with nearby unserved areas. Those business and industry centers are the economic heart of many regions and they need modern connectivity for Minnesota to thrive.

Dorman said one significant victory in the newly-passed state broadband grant law is that $5 million of the $35 million appropriation will be set aside for areas that currently have speeds greater than 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up but less than 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. That $5 million will be available to communities that need better broadband service to boost economic development.

In a statement to, officials from state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) said:

“Given the increased interest in the [grant] program, we expect to see a very competitive pool of applications this round, and using the results of previous rounds, expect to see over 12,000 homes and businesses served with wired service as well as increased wireless coverage in some areas of the state.”

“Still,” DEED officials admitted, “It is difficult to estimate how many will be left unserved after this round, given that there is private and federal investments also being made across the state. DEED continues to gather data from the providers and federal sources and will have an updated estimate of the gap in July, 2016.”

The federal “investments” are largely from the Connect America Fund, which has is effectively wasting billions of dollars [9]on antiquated DSL service.

Disappointing “Challenge Process”

On the downside, the Partnership was disappointed in a provision in the broadband law pertaining to a “challenge process” that allows a telecom company to stop a project from receiving a grant if that company currently provides or even promises to provide service at the low state speed goals, Dorman said. This legislative language is a slight reform of the previous “right of first refusal” language, which had been included in the House broadband bill.

“This [challenge language] provision in the bill could make it difficult, if not impossible, for projects seeking to upgrade existing broadband service to receive a grant,” Dorman said[10]. “We will have to see how this all plays out.”

Dorman sees the “challenge process” language as a tool protecting telecom companies “that don’t want to invest” in their Internet networks.

“Any broadband provider in the area can object” to an applicant’s request for grant funding, Dorman said. This is potentially more open-ended than the old language that gave this challenge authority only to incumbent providers in an area, he said.


In a statement, DEED officials told us:

“The current challenge language was introduced to more accurately reflect the process that is already part of the program and to clarify that it is the state that will determine whether or not a challenge to an application is valid, not a provider.  This process was modeled after a federal system that was used in the distribution of the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] broadband stimulus funds to address the desire to avoid making public investments where private investments are already being made that meet or exceed the goals of the program. The new aspect that has been added to the process is the allowance of near-term construction plans that meet state standards as a valid basis for a challenge. This is to account for the added presence of CAF (Connect America Fund) II investments. Added protections were also introduced so that if construction commitments aren’t met as outlined in the challenge, the provider may be barred from issuing future challenges. DEED retains the authority to determine the validity of any challenge.”

Whatever the reasons for the legislative changes, Dorman decried the lack of opportunity for public comment on the “challenge” language.

“It is a major change from current law and people had very little time to react interpret and comment on the House bill and no opportunity to comment on the agreed-upon language that made it into the final bill.”

Meanwhile, Dorman blamed industry telecom lobbyists for convincing state lawmakers not to support the language changes sought by Partnership. “This [new Broadband Development Grant law] was written with the help of the [telecommunications] industry,” he said.

Speed Goals Lagging 

In another area, GMNP leaders also believe the state’s connectivity speeds goals are not aggressive enough. Under the law, the state’s goal is that “no later than 2022,[11]” all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to minimum speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up and the minimum service goals in 2026 should be 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.

“To say 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps is an acceptable standard is ridiculous,” Dorman told us. “This is equivalent of 1990s dial up service.  We need to step this up.”

That position resonates with us. In our policy paper we said:

“When it comes to its goal, Minnesota should recall the danger of aiming low: you might hit the target. Minnesota should establish a stronger goal and then actually fund the program to achieve it. 100 Mbps symmetrical by 2022 would be both ambitious and worthwhile.”

Moving forward, Dorman said his organization may have to re-evaluate if there is a better and faster way to get high-speed Internet connectivity to greater Minnesota if dramatic improvements don’t come soon to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[12]

  1. in a recent post:
  2. unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion:
  3. has a projected $900 million budget surplus. :
  4. Greater Minnesota Partnership, :
  5. an end-of-the session update website post :
  6. was designed to:
  7. “Minnesota’s Broadband Program: Getting The Rules Right”:
  8. the Star Tribune, and us:
  9. effectively wasting billions of dollars :
  10. Dorman said:
  11. the state’s goal is that “no later than 2022,:
  12. here:

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Video: Break the Chains, Build Local Power

by ILSR | June 1, 2016 7:00 am

placeholder[1]Since our founding in 1974, we have worked to rewrite the rules and empower communities to choose their own future. Across several vital economic sectors, we help break the corporate stranglehold that extracts wealth from local economies and undermines democracy.

We give communities the tools to build a strong local economy themselves.

From banking to energy, healthy soils to community-owned Internet networks, time and again we have shown that when we level the playing field for individuals and businesses, we improve our economy and the quality of life for all citizens.

To many, ILSR is one initiative that they have followed, learned from, and tried to embody. But we are much more than that. We are a network of initiatives with a coherent philosophy and strategy that link all things community – utilities, internet, shopping, banking, trash, recycling, and – the most important part piece – YOU.

We need your help to expand our reach and multiply our successes.

Donate to our campaign[2] to help us Inspire, Advocate, Empower, Create, and Champion local solutions:

This video illustrates our work, and explains how all of our unique and distinct initiatives, together, build a holistic philosophy of local self-reliance.

  1. [Image]:
  2. Donate to our campaign:

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Being Black Still a Barrier to Rural Cooperative Board Membership

by John Farrell | May 23, 2016 6:00 am

placeholder[1]In 1984, the New York Times ran a story highlighting the almost universally white boards of directors[2] among 300 Southern electric cooperatives serving populations with thousands of African American member-owners:

According to Oleta G. Fitzgerald, a staff lawyer with the [Southern Regional Council], a survey of 300 cooperatives in Southern states showed no more than 30 blacks among 3,000 board members elected at annual meetings by members to oversee, among other things, the co-ops’ operations and rates. [emphasis added]

Exempt from state regulation in 33 states because they purportedly offer democratic and local control, new data on the nation’s rural electric cooperatives suggests that skin color is still a major barrier to their democratic representation.

Scant Improvement in Three Decades

In 32 years, little has changed for electric cooperatives in the South. A recent study published by The Rural Power Project shared results of a similar survey (of 313 cooperative boards) and found just 90 blacks among the 3,000 board members[3]. This 4% proportion of African American board leadership is in states where the black population represents more than  22% of the total. The disparity is even higher between men and women, with men representing 90% of board members but only half the population.

The following map (created by ILSR, based on the report data[4]) illustrates the disparity between the racial composition of electric cooperative boards and their respective state populations, ranging from 8% in Kentucky, to over 30% in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Racial Disparity in RECs[5]

Representation by people identifying as Hispanic was similarly low relative to population: just 0.3% of board positions were filled by a person identifying as Hispanic, in states with an average population share of 10% Hispanic.

Largely Unregulated

As mentioned previously, rural electric cooperatives are largely exempted from state oversight because their legal structure implies that members have a say in the governance of the organization. The following map, based on data from the federal GAO, illustrates how few states have any form of state regulation (red), and several that have only a limited form (in yellow):

We updated this map based on 2015 data from the Government Accountability Office. You can still see the 2008 version here.[6]

The above map is somewhat deceptive, because rural electric cooperatives were for many years subject to (minimal) oversight by the Rural Utility Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, due to their reliance on federal financing. n recent years, however, cooperatives have increasingly used their own financing, reducing even that small level of scrutiny.

The parallels across time are striking. The 1984 New York Times story includes a tale of a rigged election (where the board rescheduled the annual meeting to another time, and proxy votes were used to re-elect the entire all-white board), eerily similar to one shared in ILSR’s recently published report on Re-Member-ing Rural Electric Cooperatives[7], where Randy Wilson of Jackson Energy Cooperative found his campaign drowned by proxy votes. Low member engagement reinforces an ailing system of local democracy, with three-quarters of rural electric cooperatives having less than 10% turnout for their board elections.

A Potentially Costly Loophole

The issue of democracy at a utility company would normally be an internal matter, but rural electric cooperatives are notable for their particularly deep reliance on coal-fired electricity[8] and on very long term contracts tying them to this resource. Through these contracts, the smaller, local cooperatives have often ceded nearly all their power to generation and transmission cooperatives, giving them little leverage to embrace the changes wrought by inexpensive renewable energy or smart, two-way technologies. As the country begins to account for the enormous health and environmental costs of coal in its electricity prices, many rural residents may be left holding the bag of the utilities that have been exempted from typical regulator oversight.

The racial disparities unearthed by the Rural Power Project put a new light on an old problem. Many rural electric cooperative members ought to ask about the value of “democratic, member control.”

This article originally posted at[9]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[10] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[11] update.

  1. [Image]:
  2. highlighting the almost universally white boards of directors:,1%5D
  3. just 90 blacks among the 3,000 board members:
  4. the report data:
  5. [Image]:
  6. [Image]:
  7. Re-Member-ing Rural Electric Cooperatives:
  8. particularly deep reliance on coal-fired electricity:
  10. Twitter:
  11. Energy Democracy weekly:

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Not Just Illegal, Targeting Solar Facilities With Fees is Poor Policy

by John Farrell | May 12, 2016 5:10 pm

Should utilities be able to add special fees on customers that have solar or small wind installations?

Not only is it against Minnesota state law, but in our recent comments to the state’s Public Utilities Commission, we explain how one-off fees on customers using distributed generation to cut their energy consumption violates the spirit of good utility rate design, and inhibits development of a more efficient electricity system.

Six Minnesota utilities were singled out by the Commission in the recent investigation, all guilty of having fees imposed (usually associated with metering) on customers with distributed generation systems. The fees were wide ranging, as were the purported costs they were intended to recover. The fees also directly conflict with the state laws meant to encourage “maximum encouragement” of distributed renewable energy resources.

From our comments:

“Targeted fees on qualifying facilities can hardly be considered consistent with ‘maximum possible encouragement,’ especially when there has been so little evidence presented by the state’s electric utilities that such fees reflect a full and accurate accounting of the costs and benefits of such facilities. A regulatory tool does exist to fulfill this purpose, called the value of solar tariff, but no utility has yet opted to use it.”

It’s unfortunately not unexpected to see utility companies reacting to change on the electric grid in this manner, as several other technological shifts in other industries suggest:

To an extent, this reaction reflects the slow and conservative nature of the electric utility business. Electric utilities are often as unprepared for the rapid technological changes in efficiency or solar as were typewriter manufacturers or landline phone companies were for computers or cell phones. But such a lack of preparation is not an excuse to penalize customers whose own investment of capital can offer system benefits greater than their compensation, as suggested by the premium of Xcel’s 2016 value of solar price over its residential retail rate.

What could utilities do differently? In Minnesota, specifically, they could learn a lot from the Commission’s Alternative Rate Design proceeding, exploring ways to design rates in a way that incentivizes customers to act in a way with maximum benefit to themselves and the electric grid. Examples include time-of-use rates that charge customers less to use electricity when it costs less to deliver, or reward them more for putting power onto the grid at times of high demand.

The fees aren’t just illegal or poorly conceived, as we say in our comments, “they reflect a knee-jerk reaction to change—reflected in inconsistent and incomplete rationale—rather than a thoughtful and transparent approach to appropriate rate design. “

We can do better.

Download the full comments here[1].

This article originally posted at[2]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[3] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[4] update.

  1. Download the full comments here:
  3. Twitter:
  4. Democratic Energy weekly:

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What Should Bernie Do Now?

by David Morris | May 11, 2016 6:00 am

“What should Bernie do?” That seems to be the question of the month. Permit me to weigh in.

Here’s what we know at this point in the campaign.

For Sanders to have any chance of winning the support of superdelegates he must arrive at the convention with more elected delegates than Hillary.   To do that he needs to win about 65 percent of all elected delegates in the remaining electoral contests.

On March 26 Bernie did win three states (Washington, Alaska, Hawaii) by huge margins. They were all caucus states. He has never won a primary in a state where only Democrats are allowed to vote and 5 of the remaining 10 are in states with closed primaries.

So his chances are infinitesimal. Is this an argument for him to drop out? No. Hillary supporters might recall at this point in the 2008 race she was about the same number of delegates behind Obama as Bernie is behind Hillary and Obama had twice the number of superdelegates pledged to him. Some people did ask her to drop out but she continued to campaign through the primaries.

More importantly Bernie’s campaign is offering a narrative we haven’t heard for at least two generations from a major political candidate. It is a powerful, vibrant, angry, coherent narrative that forcefully runs at the powerful while defending and nurturing the weak. Bernie is as mad at concentrated corporate power and billionaires as Republicans are at government and the poor.

Bernie should continue to educate America. He needs to stay in not only to gather more delegates but also to magnetize more young people to the possibilities of politics.

But his campaign should cease any further attacks on Hillary. He can effectively sell his philosophy and program without attacking her. He can emphasize their differences about how to tackle financial concentration without attacking her for being “bought” by Wall Street.

I am less worried that further attacks will weaken Hillary’s support among the general population than I am that it will harden the hostility his supporters have built up toward Hillary during this vigorous campaign.

Bernie’s support is strongest among young people. These are voters who have yet to internalize an ethic of voting.   Traditionally they are a highly cynical population and cynicism breeds apathy. They could opt out of the election. Indeed, in some polls a quarter of Bernie’s voters say they will not vote for Hillary.

Hillary is a weak candidate. She can’t win without the support of Bernie’s followers. Trump may prove a catastrophe, and his own worst enemy during the campaign, but we can’t count on it. Turnout is the key and this year the turnout in Republican primaries has been the highest in over 50 years while the turnout on the Democratic side has been about average.

Bernie needs to make a convincing case to his supporters that in the general election they should support Hillary without thinking they have sold out. They need not be passionate but they do need to be vocal, at least among their friends. When Trump attacks Hillary they shouldn’t reflexively respond by saying, “Trump is an idiot but he does have a point.”

Bernie can honestly maintain that his differences with Hillary pale into insignificance to the differences between the Democrat and Republican parties. He can argue passionately about the dangers of a one party government. What protections will be left after the furies of a far right wing Republican Party are expressed through the control of all three branches of government, including the Supreme Court?

Bernie can be very supportive of Hillary’s election while at the same time contending that her election is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the dramatic structural changes needed.

In politics there is always a quid pro quo. In return for his support, what should Bernie ask of Hillary?

Certainly Hillary will offer Bernie a prime time slot for his speech at the Convention. I look forward to watching it. That will be an ideal opportunity for Bernie both to present his philosophy while at the same time warmly supporting Hillary and reminding Americans about the urgent importance of this election.

The Sanders campaign will also inevitably influence the platform. That may result in an especially vigorous and perhaps contentious debate, but we should remember that political platforms are usually forgotten the day after the convention closes. Moreover, this platform, like the 2012 Democratic platform, will be devoted largely to touting the accomplishments of Barack Obama. It is not going to include potshots at him.

What Should Bernie Demand from Hillary?

So what should Bernie ask for that are not gimmees? (more…)[1]

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Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think

by Brenda Platt | May 6, 2016 7:03 am

placeholderFrom healthy soils, to good local jobs, we bet you didn’t know that compost can have such an impact on your daily life! So think twice before you throw away your compostable food scraps… because one person’s trash is another’s black gold. Please help us spread the word!



We want you to be able to share these infographics under creative commons license, free of cost.

If you’re publishing on your website, or in one of your publications, please include this sentence:
“The following comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[2] ([3]), a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission.” 

Please, make sure to let people know they should link to:[4] to download the original content for their own publications. They also should include the above attribution language.

Help us continue to produce content like this. Please consider making a donation today:

Image: Donate Button[5]


Thank you for your overwhelming support of our International Compost Awareness Week (#ICAW) infographic! We have received so many thank you’s and requests for full resolution versions, so keep them coming!

Below are the web-optimized versions of all of the graphics we created.

Compost Infographic_FULL


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How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 20, 2016 6:00 am


ILSR’s new report examines how high rents are shuttering businesses and stunting entrepreneurship, and explores 6 strategies that cities are using to create an affordable built environment where local businesses can thrive. 

Image: Report cover.[1]In cities as diverse as Nashville and Milwaukee, Charleston and Portland, Maine, retail rents have shot up by double-digit percentages over the last year alone. As the cost of space rises, urban neighborhoods that have long provided the kind of dense and varied environment in which entrepreneurs thrive are becoming increasingly inhospitable to them. Local businesses that serve the everyday needs of their communities are being forced out and replaced by national chains that can negotiate better rents or afford to subsidize a high-visibility location.

This new report from ILSR offers elected officials insights on what’s causing commercial rents to skyrocket, and explores six broad policy solutions, with practical examples, that cities can use to keep commercial space appropriate, accessible, and affordable for independent businesses.

The report finds that the sharp rise in rents is happening across a range of communities, with some of the most intense pressure falling on businesses in lower income neighborhoods. And the trend isn’t limited to retailers. The price of industrial space is rising rapidly too, jeopardizing a budding renaissance in urban manufacturing.

There’s a public interest in the commercial side of the built environment, the report concludes, and smart city policy has an important role to play in creating an urban landscape in which locally owned businesses can thrive.

Read: ONE-PAGE FACTSHEET  |  Press release  |  Full Report  |  MAPPING RISING RENTS[2]



For 22 years, Lisa Monson ran her business out of a building she rented in Salt Lake City’s 15th and 15th business district. The 2,800-square-foot space was a good size for her hair salon, and she liked being in a neighborhood of locally owned businesses.

Like many business owners, though, the more Monson continued to invest in her business, the more wary she became of losing her space. Her landlord wouldn’t offer her a long-term lease, and every three years, she faced a tough renegotiation. Meanwhile, national chains had started moving into the neighborhood, including a Starbucks and an Einstein’s Bagels that bought out a local bagel shop.

“It kept me in a place where I was completely at risk of being thrown out,” Monson explains. “I knew that if he got an offer for a lot more money, I wouldn’t be able to match it.”

The cost of commercial space is spiking upward around the country, driven both by run-away real estate speculation and the growing popularity of urbanism. As a new generation discovers the appeal of walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods,[1] demand for small commercial spaces in those neighborhoods is far outpacing supply, and rents are rising to match. Locally owned enterprises, which thrive in these areas, are increasingly threatened with displacement from the neighborhoods that they’ve made vibrant, and getting replaced by national chains that can negotiate better rents or afford to subsidize a high-visibility location. As high rents shutter longtime businesses, they also create an ever-higher barrier to entry for new entrepreneurs, stunting opportunity and leading to a scarcity of start-ups in cities once known for their business dynamism.


  1. [Image]:
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RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for new Rural Internet Cooperative

by Christopher | April 18, 2016 9:46 am

21ST CENTURY FARMS REQUIRE 21ST CENTURY CONNECTIVITY. Denied Access by telephone and cable companies, they created a new model.

Winthrop, MN — A new trend is emerging in rural communities throughout the United States: Fiber-to-the-Farm. Tired of waiting for real Internet access from big companies, farmers are building it themselves. Communities in and around Minnesota’s rural Sibley County are going from worst to best after building a wireless and fiber-optic cooperative. While federal programs throw billions of dollars to deliver last year’s Internet speeds, local programs are building the network of the future.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Next Century Cities present this in-depth case study co-authored by Scott Carlson and Christopher Mitchell.



In “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative,” the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and Next Century Cities (NCC) document a groundbreaking new model that’s sprung up in South Central Minnesota that can be replicated all over the nation, in the thousands of cities and counties that have been refused service by big cable and telecom corporations.

From the technologies to the financing, rural communities can solve their problems with local investments.

“This cooperative model could bring high quality Internet access to every farm in the country,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks[3] initiative. “It’s time we stop giving billions of dollars to the big telephone companies that have refused to meet local needs. There is a better way, there are better models emerging. We can do this. RS Fiber proves it.”

RS Fiber Fact Sheet image[4]


In the report you’ll meet:

Mark Erickson of the city of Winthrop. Erickson is the local champion that has breathed life into RS Fiber. Without the project, the city of Gaylord would have not attracted the forthcoming medical school. “We have that opportunity because of the FTTH network. Without it, no medical school.”

Linda Kramer of Renville County. Kramer’s family farm relies on the Internet to upload soybean and wheat reports to business partners. DSL connections are simply not fast enough to handle the massive amount of data agricultural businesses need in order to stay competitive with the Farming Industrial Complex that is the reality of the 21st century.

Jacob Rieke, a 5th generation family farmer. Rieke’s motivation for backing the project was his pre-school aged daughters. Not wanting to put them at a disadvantage to their peers in other cities, he considered moving to a different location in order to have access to Internet.


Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[6].  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks[7].


  1. [Image]:
  3. Community Broadband Networks:
  4. [Image]:
  6. Community Broadband Networks:
  7. subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks:
  8. (more…):

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The Most Substantive Political Debate in Recent History

by David Morris | April 7, 2016 5:32 pm

Win or lose, Bernie Sanders has made this Democratic primary the most substantive in my lifetime. Not that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is devoid of ideas. She has some thoughtful ones. But the boldness of Sanders’ proposals is what has driven this historic and instructive debate.

The dynamic so far consists of Sanders setting a marker (e.g. free tuition, universal free health care, breaking up the banks, a $15 federal minimum wage, a $1 trillion public works investment); Clinton responds, and their two camps engage in a spirited, intelligent, and surprisingly concrete debate.

This back and forth has forced both candidates to raise their game. When Sanders proposed free college tuition, Clinton responded by unveiling her detailed New College Compact Plan. When Clinton attacked Sanders for failing to identify revenue sources to finance his free tuition and health care proposals, he promptly posted chapter and verse on his web site.

When economics Professor Gerald Friedman concluded that if all Sanders policies were implemented the combined effect would be to stimulate dramatically strong economic growth, four former heads of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) wrote an open letter not only dismissing his conclusions as not credible but admonishing, “Making such promises runs against our party’s best traditions of evidence-based policy making…”

The three-paragraph letter generated a collegial scolding from James Galbraith, former Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee, the Congressional counterpart of the CEA. He pointed out the signatories’ own lack of evidence for their conclusion. “I looked to the bottom of the page to find a reference or link to your rigorous review of Professor Friedman’s study. I found nothing there.” That led one of the signers to undertake a far more detailed[1] response, which in turn generated an instructive and much too rare discussion[2] regarding the validity of assumptions inside the black box of conventional economic models.

The back and forth has also revealed strategic differences born of a distinct political philosophies.   Bernie would deal with concentrated economic power through structural change; Hillary would rely on regulatory oversight. Bernie would work to break up giant banks directly. Clinton prefers to strengthen the Dodd-Frank law. Clinton sees Sanders’ proposal as politically untenable. Sanders sees Clinton’s proposal as unworkable.

Sanders’ prescription for structural change often includes using government as a competitive service provider. That is the case with his proposal to revive Postal Banking. From 1910 to 1967 the U.S. Post Office, the most ubiquitous of all public institutions, provided financial services. At its peak 1947 the U.S. Postal Bank had over 4 million accounts and deposits exceeding $3.3 billion. Almost 90 million people in the United States have no bank account and pay[3] about l0 percent of their income in fees and interest to gain access to credit or other financial services. (more…)[4]

  1. detailed:
  2. discussion:
  3. pay:
  4. (more…):

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More Colorado Communities Shut Out State Barriers At The Voting Booth

by ILSR | April 6, 2016 6:31 am

Once again, local communities in Colorado chose to shout out to leaders at the Capitol and tell them, “We reclaim local telecommunications authority!”

Nine more towns in the Centennial State voted on Tuesday to opt out of 2005’s SB 152. Here are the unofficial results from local communities that can’t be any more direct at telling state leaders to let them chart their own connectivity destiny:

Akron[1], population 1,700 and located in the center of the state, passed its ballot measure with 92 percent of votes cast supporting the opt-out.

Buena Vista[2], also near Colorado’s heartland, chose to approve to reclaim local authority when 77 percent of those casting votes chose to opt out. There are approximately 2,600 people in the town located at the foot of the Collegiate Peaks in the Rockies. Here is Buena Vista’s sample ballot[3].

The town of Fruita[4], home to approximately 12,600 people, approved the measure to reclaim local authority with 86 percent of votes cast. Now, when they celebrate the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival[5], the Fruitans will have even more to cheer.

Orchard City[6], another western community, approved their ballot measure when 84 percent of voters deciding the issue chose to opt out. There are approximately 3,100 people here and a local cooperative, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) has started Phase I[7] of  its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the region. According to an August article[8] in the Delta County Independent, Delta County Economic Development (DCED) has encouraged local towns, including Orchard City, to ask voters to opt out of SB 152. With the restriction removed, local towns can now collaborate with providers like DMEA.

In southwest Colorado is Pagosa Springs[9], where 83 percent of those voting supported the ballot measure to opt out. There are 1,700 people living in the community where many of the homes are vacation properties. Whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority was the only ballot issue[10] in Pagosa Springs.

Silver Cliff[11] began as a mining town and is home to only 587 people in the south central Wet Mountain Valley. Voters passed the ballot measure to opt-out of SB 152 with 80 percent of votes cast.

In the north central part of the state sits Wellington[12], population approximately 6,200. The community has some limited fiber and their ballot initiative specifically states[13] that they intend to study the feasibility and viability of publicly provided services. Their initiative passed with 83 percent of the vote:


Another small community, Westcliffe[14] with 568 people, also took the issue to the voters. Of those voting on Ballot Question A, 76 percent voted “yes” to reclaim local telecommunications authority. The town is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Custer County.

Two weeks ago, we told you about Mancos[15] where community leaders want to explore the possibility of using existing publicly owned fiber for better connectivity. In Mancos, the Board of Trustees of the community of 1,300 recognized that the bill was anti-competitive and passed a resolution urging voters to approve the opt-out. As the Town Administrator acknowledged, reclaiming local authority, “gives us a lot more leeway.” Mancos wants to have the freedom to investigate public projects and public private partnerships. Voters agreed and 86 percent of those casting ballots approved the measure.

C’mon Already!

Last November nearly 50 local communities[16] sent a message loud and clear to the state legislature that they want the freedom to make their own decisions about connectivity. Opting out of SB 152 does not mean a community will build a muni but allows them to explore the possibility of serving themselves or using their own fiber assets to work with private sector partners.

For these communities, there is no good that comes from SB 152. Its only purpose is to limit possibilities and restrict competition in favor of the big corporate providers who lobbied so hard to get it passed in 2005.

We’ve said it before[17] and we’ll say it again. Rather than force local communities to spend local funds on these referendums to reclaim a right that was taken away from them by the state in 2005, Colorado needs to repeal the barriers erected by SB 152.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[18]

  1. Akron:
  2. Buena Vista:
  3. sample ballot:
  4. Fruita:
  5. Mike the Headless Chicken Festival:
  6. Orchard City:
  7. started Phase I:’s-fiber-premises-business
  8. August article:
  9. Pagosa Springs:
  10. only ballot issue:
  11. Silver Cliff:
  12. Wellington:
  13. ballot initiative specifically states:
  14. Westcliffe:
  15. told you about Mancos:
  16. nearly 50 local communities:
  17. We’ve said it before:
  18. here:

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What Is the Best Medical System in the Country? The Answer May Surprise You.

by David Morris | March 31, 2016 10:59 am

The Veterans Administration (VA). Yes, a medical system 100% financed by the government and run by the government, provides higher quality care, at a lower cost, than private hospitals. That’s the conclusion of dozens of independent studies. But a multi-year, well-financed and highly effective campaign has persuaded Congress to ignore the data because, well, we all know the government cannot do anything efficiently. The tragic result? Congress has begun the process of dismantling the most effective (and largest) medical system in the United States. In the Washington Monthly Alicia Mundy reports[1] the sad and revealing story.

  1. reports:

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Report: Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative

by John Farrell | March 29, 2016 7:58 am

by John Farrell, Matt Grimley & Nick Stumo-Langer

Electric cooperatives have been the backbone of the nation’s rural electrical system for more than 80 years. Their mission and business model now face more challenges than ever, from financial to contractual to basic member control. But the opportunity is equally great, with a chance for member-driven investment to power hundreds of local economies across the rural United States.

Download the Report[1]

Executive Summary

Electric cooperatives face diverse challenges, from their power sources to member engagement. This report details those challenges and the tools that cooperatives are using to overcome them.

The Challenges

low turnout for rural electric cooperative board elections ILSR[2]Tied to Coal Power
Coal accounts for about 75% of energy generated by electric cooperatives, compared to just 32% for the United States’ entire electricity sector (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2016).

Captured in Long-Term Contracts
Contracts with electricity suppliers extend for decades, sometimes past 2050, trapping locally-based electric cooperatives into increasingly expensive distant power plants and fossil fuel sources, while forbidding them from buying outside energy.

Losing Member-Owners.
Electric cooperative members have a right to vote for their boards of directors. But 70% of cooperatives have less than a 10% voter turnout, increasing the disconnection between the cooperative and its members.

The Solutions

Fortunately, the solutions lie in the best of the cooperative movement.

Finding Ways Out of Coal Power
A new ruling from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may allow electric cooperatives to purchase local power outside their contractual obligations, providing a novel level of flexibility for most cooperatives.

Using Clean Energy and On-Bill Financing
Electric cooperatives are finding new ways to enable energy savings for member-owners. They’re leaders in experimenting with community solar. A few are supporting the highest penetrations of rooftop solar in the nation. They’re creating cost-effective on-bill financing programs that help members save energy and money.

And Empowering Member-Owners
The member-owners of Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Beartooth Electric Cooperative, Jackson Energy Cooperative, and many others have made their cooperatives more accessible, more dedicated to renewable energy and energy efficiency, and more democratic than ever.

Cooperatives may face their greatest challenge since the inception of rural electrification in the 1930s, but with their members, they have the power to overcome.



  1. Download the Report:
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AT&T Tries to End the Magic of One Touch Make-Ready

by ILSR | March 28, 2016 5:06 am

On the border of Kentucky and Indiana a fight is brewing as AT&T and Google Fiber have both announced plans to bring Gigabit Internet service to Louisville, Kentucky. Home to over half a million, the city could see major economic development with new ultra high-speed Internet access, but there’s a problem: the utility poles.

AT&T is suing the city[1] over a “one touch make-ready” ordinance. On February 11, 2016, the Louisville Metro Council passed the ordinance[2] in order to facilitate new competitors, i.e. Google Fiber.

Utility Poles: Key to Aerial Deployment

Make-ready is the shorthand for making a utility pole ready for new attachments. Although it may seem simple, this process is often expensive and time-consuming. To add a new cable, others may have to be shifted in order to meet safety and industry standards. Under the common procedure, this process can take months as each party has to send out an independent crew to move each section of cabling.

To those of us unfamiliar with the standards of pole attachment it may seem absurd, but this originally made sense. Utility poles have a limited amount of space, and strict codes regulate the placement of each type of cable on the pole. Competitors feel they have to fiercely guard their space on the pole and cannot trust other providers to respect their cables. Make-ready must involve coordination between multiple providers and the utility pole owners. For some firms, like AT&T, this is an opportunity to delay new competition for months.

“One touch make-ready” simplifies the entire process. A single crew only makes one trip to relocate all the cables as necessary to make the utility pole. Under the amended ordinance in Louisville, the company that wants to add a cable to the utility pole can hire a single accredited and certified crew, approved by the pole owner, which will accomplish the work much more quickly and at lower cost. Also, it must pay for needed fixes or any damages to the pole-owner’s equipment and inform the pole-owner of any changes within 30 days. Such “one touch make-ready” policies quicken network deployments by preventing delays inherent in coordinating many different entities.

Why Oppose It? Private Utility Pole vs. Public Right-of-Way

AT&T is suing to stop Louisville from implementing this new policy in an effort to stop the new competition from entering the market. Ostensibly, AT&T argues they filed the suit because they own many of the utility poles (an estimated 25-40%) in Louisville. The company argues that the municipality does not have the authority to regulate the utility poles and that this is an unjust seizure of property. In other communities where this is the case, the new companies that want to use the utility poles must sign a licensing agreement with AT&T.

AT&T’s argument, however, fails to recognize that local governments are required to manage the public Rights-of-Way (in layman’s terms, that is the land kept for the public interest near a roadway). The utility poles, although privately owned, serve a key function for connecting the public with needed services. That is why those utility poles are permitted on the public Right-Of-Way in the first place. Local governments, moreover, must have the authority to ensure that anything permitted on the public Right-Of-Way, such as utility poles, meet safety and industry standards in the quickest and most efficient way possible.

Further Resources on “One Touch Make-Ready”

Chris interviews Ted Smith, Chief Innovation Officer for Louisville in Community Broadband Bits Episode 193[3]. Smith describes how “one touch make-ready” is quicker, safer, and more efficient to use the utility poles in the public Rights-of-Way to their full potential for the good of the community.

For more information on the importance of “one touch make-ready,” check out analyses from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice[4], Next Century Cities[5], and FTTH Council[6]. For an in-depth analysis of Right-of-Way regulations, listen to Sean Stokes of Baller, Herbst, Stokes & Lide on Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 169[7].

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[8]

  1. AT&T is suing the city:
  2. Louisville Metro Council passed the ordinance:
  3. Community Broadband Bits Episode 193:
  4. Coalition for Local Internet Choice:
  5. Next Century Cities:
  6. FTTH Council:
  7. Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 169:
  8. here:

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Mancos Voters The Latest To Decide Local Authority In Colorado

by ILSR | March 25, 2016 3:47 pm

 Mancos[1], a rural community of about 1,300 in rural southwest Colorado, hopes to join over 50 other communities across the state that have reclaimed local telecommunications authority. On April 5th, the town will decide whether to exempt itself from SB 152, Colorado’s 2005 state law that removed local choice from municipalities and local governments.

Located at the base of the Mesa Verde National Park, Mancos is best known for outdoor recreation and as the gateway to the park, home to the historic Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings. Rangeland and mountains surround the community.

The Pine River Times Journal reports[2] that Mancos is looking to utilize 3,300 feet of fiber optic assets already in place. The fiber now connects municipal facilities but community leaders want to have the option to use the network for businesses, residents, or to provide Wi-Fi to visitors. SB 152 precludes Mancos from using their publicly owned fiber for any of those purposes without first opting out.

On March 9th, the Town Board of Trustees approved a resolution encouraging voters to pass the ballot initiative that will reclaim local authority. They have information about the ballot question and what it will mean for the community on their website[3].

“It’s an anti-competition bill [SB 152],” [Mancos Town Administrator Andrea Phillips] said. “[Exempting out] gives us a lot more leeway.”

Mancos has no specific plans to develop a municipal fiber network but, like many other communities that opted out last November[4], they want the ability to do so or to work with a private sector partner. Nearby Dolores is collaborating with Montezuma County; the two have contracted jointly for a feasibility study.

According a March 16th Pine River Times Journal article[5], Dolores and Montezuma County will put the issue to voters in November. Jim McClain, IT Manager for the county said:

“Opting out unties our hands in order to build up the system. It’s like we build the road, and then private companies provide the service on that road.”

“When people and businesses are thinking of moving here, the first thing they want to know is if there is broadband.”

In Mancos, the local Chamber of Commerce is considering the needs of visitors as well as residents.

“It’s all about economic vitality,” [Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce Administrator Marie Chiarizia] said.

Mancos potentially could make broadband service available anywhere in the town if it’s exempted from SB 152, Chiarizia said. Outdoor events such as Mancos Days draw temporary vendors, and broadband access would allow those vendors to be able to take credit and debit cards more quickly, she said.

The Mancos Board of Trustees voted to contribute $4,100 to participate in the feasibility study on March 23rd.

“To look to the future and become prosperous you have to look at the infrastructure of the town and offer these services…Mancos is a unique community unto itself, but this will help us promote our town better and place us on a competitive edge,” [Chiarizia] said.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[6]

  1. Mancos:
  2. Pine River Times Journal reports:
  3. on their website:
  4. opted out last November:
  5. March 16th Pine River Times Journal article:
  6. here:

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Listen to the Lawyers: Audio of Oral Arguments Now Available in TN/NC vs FCC

by ILSR | March 22, 2016 2:36 pm

Attorneys argued before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 17th[1] in the case of Tennessee and North Carolina vs the FCC. The attorneys presented their arguments before the court as it considered the FCC’s decision to peel back state barriers that prevent local authority to expand munis.

A little over a year ago, the FCC struck down[2] state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina limiting expansion of publicly own networks. Soon after, both states filed appeals and the cases were combined.

You can listen to the entire oral argument below – a little less than 43 minutes – which includes presentations from both sides and vigorous questions from the Judges.

To review other resources from the case, be sure to check out the other resources, available here[3], including party and amicus briefs.

audio/mpeg iconOral Arguments, 15-3291 State of Tennessee and North Carolina v FCC et al[4]

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[5]

  1. on March 17th:
  2. the FCC struck down:
  3. available here:
  4. Oral Arguments, 15-3291 State of Tennessee and North Carolina v FCC et al:
  5. here:

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CLIC to Host Preconference Day in Austin on April 4th

by ILSR | March 21, 2016 10:35 am

Are you going to the Austin Broadband Communities Conference this spring? If you plan on attending the April 5 – 7 event, you may want to head out one day early so you can check out the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) Preconference Day event on April 4.

From the CLIC email invite:

CLIC’s pre-conference day will focus on how communities can facilitate the development of local gigabit networks. Our interactive panel of experts will share best practices and how successful community-led networks have responded to various fiber deployment hurdles, including political, legal, financial, market or resource barriers. You will be able to meet in-person and hear from the public officials who are facilitating, and the private companies who are engaged in and seeking, local public-private broadband partnerships.

The event will be open to all conference attendees and will start at 8:45 a.m. Some of the presentations include:

A Discussion of How Successful Community-Led Networks Have Responded to Barriers and Challenges

Public-Private Partnerships

For more information on speakers, you can review the full agenda here[1].

Join CLIC[2] and register online[3] for the conference. As a member of CLIC, you will receive a special BBC rate of $350 for the entire BBC conference. Use the code CLIC2016 when you register to take advantage of your membership bennie.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[4]

  1. the full agenda here:
  2. Join CLIC:
  3. register online:
  4. here:

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Race and Democracy in Michigan

by David Morris | March 18, 2016 10:30 am

In 2013, 52% of all African-Americans living in Michigan had their voting rights taken away by  Emergency Managers, compared to only 2% of whites. In November 2014 a federal judge concluded[1] that the Emergency Managers law had been applied in a racially discriminatory manner. That law allows the state to appoint a manager to unilaterally govern a city. His decisions pre-empt and supersede decisions by city councils or mayors.  In a November 2012 referendum, the citizens of Michigan had voted to overturn the 2011 law but within weeks the state legislature enacted an almost identical law immune to the popular will.

Some argue[2] the exercise of undemocratic authority was a key to the widespread lead poisoning of residents in the city of Flint.


(Photo: Jake May/

  1. concluded:
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Webinar: Crowdfunding for Community Composting

by Rebecca Toews | March 16, 2016 1:51 pm

On March 22, 2016 Brenda Platt was joined by Dustin Fedako of Compost Pedallers and Ethany Uttech of Ioby to talk about best practices for community composting. Below is the link to the recording, please pass it along to whomever you think would benefit from the conversation.

If you’d like to be updated on ILSR events, please feel free to subscribe to our newsletter:[1]

Lor Holmes was unable to attend due to technical difficulties, but we’ll be sure to have her on for our next event. If you have any questions, ideas for future webinars, or if you’d like to volunteer to present, let me know that as well.


Crowdfunding and worker-owned cooperatives are just two of the models that have proven to work for community composters around the United States.

Please join Lor Holmes with CERO[2], and Dustin Fedako with Compost Pedallers[3] for a deeper dive into crowdfunding for community composters.

Business planning and financing were among the hot topics community composters identified. In less than a year, CERO raised over $350,000 via nearly 100 community investors. The Compost Pedallers raised $25,000 on Indiegogo from336 backers. They’ll share tips based on their own lessons learned, and attendees will come away with a realistic idea of what to expect in the preparation, launch, live campaign, and reward fulfillment phases of a crowdfunding campaign.

CCC2016_Holmes Lor headshot[4]

Lor Holmes is CERO Cooperative’s General Manager.

She leads business development, and like all of the CERO worker-owners,

Lor shares a passion for environmental and social justice, sustainable

economic development and democratic models for community ownership.







CCC2016_Fedako_Dustin_Compost Pedallers[5]Dustin Fedako is the co-founder of the Compost Pedallers in Austin, Texas

and has worked as CEO of the company since its founding in 2012.

Under Dustin’s leadership, the Compost Pedallers have moved

over half a million pounds of organics by bike, and established themselves as

leaders in the pedal powered revolution and the community composting movement.



NEW Special Guest!

Ethany Uttech headshot jpeg[6]Ethany Uttech  with[7] will join our webinar discussion as well!

Ioby is a nationwide, nonprofit crowdfunding platform that provides one-on-one coaching to leaders of projects that make communities healthier and more sustainable. They’ll share examples of past successfully funded projects and some top tips for nonprofits or community groups looking to build a local base of support through crowdfunding.

Ethany Uttech focuses on partnership building and outreach to connect with new ioby Leaders across the country. She never tires of meeting people who are dedicated to making positive change in themselves and in the world, and is particularly inspired by projects that increase neighborhood sustainability and livability in tangible ways.

Before joining the ioby team, Ethany led Brooklyn Arts Council’s grant-giving and professional development programs for seven years, and worked in a variety of organizational development, project management, and teaching capacities. She is also a civically engaged resident of Brooklyn and a long-time volunteer activist in the arenas of social and environmental justice.



The event is organized by ILSR and BioCycle.

  2. Lor Holmes with CERO:
  3. Dustin Fedako with Compost Pedallers:
  4. [Image]:
  5. [Image]:
  6. [Image]:

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Are Rural Electric Cooperatives Driving or Just Dabbling in Community Solar?

by Nick Stumo-Langer | March 11, 2016 9:00 am

Electric cooperatives, member-owned organizations that sell electricity to those within their service area, are perhaps the nation’s largest group of utilities that could champion clean, local power[1]. They tend to cover enormous swaths of the most rural territory, often with excellent wind and solar resources.

In one manner of renewable energy, cooperatives are leading the fray: community solar.

78 different electric cooperatives allow their members to buy into a collectively owned solar project. The total is small— just 92 megawatts (MW), equivalent to only 0.18% of their overall power generation—but these cooperatively-owned utilities are much more likely to experiment with customer-owned generation than their municipal and for-profit peers.

The Solar Opportunity

Electric cooperatives serve an estimated 42 million people in 47 states[2], but their member-ownership structure is what makes them unique. While for-profit, monopoly utilities tend to limit the ability of communities to invest in their own energy, electric cooperatives allow each member to own a stake in their renewable energy future.

Utility Community Solar Projects[3]

Cooperatives have a history of serving local needs[4]. In the New Deal era, thanks to the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), community cooperatives were essential in bringing electricity to all parts of the country. If these cooperatives hadn’t stepped up and large power companies had had their way, these rural areas’ economies could, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, still be “entirely and exclusively dependent on agriculture.”

Community solar follows naturally from the cooperatives’ historical democratization of the electric system.

The benefits from community solar[5] include savings on your energy bill and a chance to own a slice of the sun whether or not you own a sunny rooftop[6]. This option is a popular one, with many community solar arrays “selling out”[7] within a few weeks.

Below is a map identifying the 78 community solar projects throughout the country separated by ownership structure. The lion’s share are owned by electric cooperatives.

The Trico Community Sun Farm in Marana, Arizona allows individuals[8] to purchase solar panels in quarter, half, or full panel increments, ensuring that the all of the members can make clean energy commitment that works best for them. The credit structure also works in exactly the same way as net metering for a residential rooftop solar system would, reducing members bills on a per-kilowatt-hour basis for every kilowatt-hour generated by their share of the community solar array.

Meanwhile, the Yampa Valley Electric Association markets their Community Solar Garden in Colorado is a renewable energy option for members who “want the benefits of solar ownership without the research, construction and maintenance of a stand-alone system.” They are also committed[9] to flexibility for their members, allowing them to take their energy credits with them if they move within a different utilities’ service area.

Finally, in Michigan, Cherryland Electric Cooperative’s Solar Up North Alliance explicitly utilizes[10] its electric cooperative history when setting up their community solar project: “Today, solar energy is out of reach for a lot of people – it can be expensive to set up, and there’s a lot of maintenance involved. So we thought, why not do something about it?” Hailed as Michigan’s first community solar project, the Solar Up North Alliance allows Cherryland members to purchase solar shares for a one-time investment fee (they can bring the price down via state-based clean energy rebates). Their project is currently fully subscribed.

When the cost benefits to members and the cooperative are paired with a lighter load on the electric grid, relief from volatile fossil fuel pricing, and the sustainability of local energy production, community solar is a win for the subscribers and the entire cooperative.

Potential to Grow?

Although electric cooperatives are dabbling in community solar, it’s not making a large dent in their power generation mix, for a big reason. Currently, many cooperatives purchase power from outside their service area via long-term contracts in an attempt to keep costs low. Coal power accounts for 59%[11] of rural electric cooperative power purchases, more so than any other kind of utility (public or investor-owned). These deals have powered the cooperatives’ past, but with the rising price of coal and growing grassroots support for distributed generation of renewable energy, this continued coal commitment is unsustainable.

Now may be a good time for electric cooperatives to change their practices. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently ruled[12] that some cooperatives with long-term contracts with large-scale, dirty energy producers could — despite those contracts — invest in local, renewable energy. This could include purchases from third parties, but also purchases from local power generators or community solar.

The key for cooperatives is self-determination and collective ownership. Most electric cooperatives are regulated far less than their for-profit counterparts, giving them the potential to fulfill member interest in solar energy.

We updated this map based on 2015 data from the Government Accountability Office. You can still see the 2008 version here[13].

Community solar is one tool, but since cooperatives are collectively owned, any purchase of local solar generation distributes the benefits to all members. Community solar in particular allows for voluntary participation and a new way to raise capital from the cooperative members for new power generation capacity.

Community Solar or Bust?

There was a saying among cooperatives in the 1930s: “if we don’t do it, no one will.” Now it’s the opposite: “if we don’t do it, someone else will.” Like most Americans, cooperative members want their electricity to come from non-polluting resources, and for their utility to seize the free solar resource falling on their community for their benefit. In many states, third parties are serving this need by offering those with sunny rooftops a low-cost solar lease, dramatically reducing the customer’s need for utility electricity.

Developing local, clean energy is about proving the cooperative’s relevance in the 21st century. Electric cooperatives are operating a disproportionate number of community solar projects, but these pilot projects are serving only a fraction of their power needs and member-owners.

Cooperatives that provide a community solar option can wean themselves off of dirty power, broaden the opportunities for members to invest in clean energy, and show that they’re committed to making a renewable energy future of benefit to all their members.

For more information, see ILSR’s other posts on rural electric cooperatives:

This article originally posted at[18]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[19] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[20] update.

Image credit: User:OgreBot/Uploads by new users/2015 January 15 12:00 [21]

  1. champion clean, local power:
  2. serve an estimated 42 million people in 47 states:
  3. [Image]:
  4. have a history of serving local needs:
  5. benefits from community solar:
  6. whether or not you own a sunny rooftop:
  7. “selling out”:
  8. allows individuals:
  9. They are also committed:
  10. explicitly utilizes:
  11. Coal power accounts for 59%:
  12. recently ruled:
  13. here:
  14. Just How Democratic Are Rural Electric Cooperatives?:
  15. Did FERC Just Smash the Biggest Roadblock to Clean, Local Power for Electric Co-ops?:
  16. Why Aren’t Rural Electric Cooperatives Champions of Local Clean Power?:
  17. A $6 Billion Opportunity for the Rural Energy Economy:
  19. Twitter:
  20. Democratic Energy weekly:
  21. User:OgreBot/Uploads by new users/2015 January 15 12:00 :

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American Democracy Under Siege

by David Morris | March 8, 2016 2:45 pm

The founding fathers minced no words about their distrust of the masses. Our first President, John Adams warned[1], “Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy…” Our second President, Thomas Jefferson insisted[2], “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule.” Our third President, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution declared[3], “Democracy is the most vile form of government.”

In his argument against the direct election of Senators Connecticut’s Roger Sherman advised[4] his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention, “The people should have as little to do as may be about the government. They lack information and are constantly liable to be misled.” They agreed. Senators would be elected by state legislatures. And they created the Electoral College to shield the Presidency from a direct vote of the people as well.

In 1776, the year he signed the Declaration of Independence, John Adams presciently wrote[5] a fellow lawyer about the collateral damage that would result from “attempting to alter the qualifications of voters. There will be no end to it. New claims will arise. Women will demand the vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level.”

In 1789 the franchise was restricted to white men, but not all white men. Only those possessing a minimum amount of property or paid taxes could vote. In 1800, just three states permitted white manhood suffrage-the right to vote– without qualification.

In 1812, six western states were the first[6] to give all non-property owning white men the franchise. Hard times resulting from the Panic of 1819 led many people to demand an end to property restrictions on voting and officeholding. By 1840 popular agitation by the swelling ranks of propertyless urban dwellers coupled with “Age of Jacksonian Democracy” increased[7] the percentage of white men eligible to vote to 90 percent. And the advent of a new type of presidential electioneering that spoke directly to the people in raucous proceedings lifted turnout from 25 percent of eligible voters in 1824 to a remarkable 80 percent in 1840.

the suffragist, at lastWomen had to wait much longer. A number of colonies did allow women to vote. But by the time the Constitution was ratified all[8] states except New Jersey denied women that right. In 1808 New Jersey made it unanimous.

In 1875 Michigan and Minnesota allowed[9] women the right to vote for school boards. In 1887 Kansas gave them the right to vote in municipal elections. In 1889 Wyoming was the first state to give women full suffrage. Utah and Idaho followed in 1896. By 1920, the year the 19th Amendment was ratified women had achieved suffrage in 19 of the then 48 states.

Black Suffrage

For blacks the road was much, much longer and far more treacherous. Even as the states extended voting rights to all white men it took away existing voting rights to black men. In the 1790s, African American males who owned property could vote[10] in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Maryland. All effectively stripped their black citizens of voting rights in the first quarter of the 19th century.


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Is Recycling Stagnating? The Case of Los Angeles

by Neil Seldman | March 8, 2016 1:38 pm


In the past several months, journalists in major publications such as Forbes, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Mother Jones have concluded that recycling rates have stagnated. They tend to blame the recent downturn in materials prices. They’re half right. Recycling levels have stagnated in many cities and towns, largely in the South and Midwest, and the national average of 35 percent[1][1] has not moved much in more than a decade.

But it is not economics that keeps recycling stagnant in parts of the country. Rather it is a stagnation of citizen activism. Where citizens remain active, recycling levels continue to rise to unprecedented levels. Even as markets for recycled materials fluctuate advanced recycling cities realize that avoided costs of replacement landfills and incinerators and an expanded economy more than compensate for temporary low market prices.[2][2]

Since the advent of the modern recycling movement post Earth Day 1970 advocates have faced great odds. Not only did they have to persuade a skeptical public to embrace recycling before it was economically viable, but even more a skeptical and often downright hostile solid waste bureaucracy that abhorred the idea of having to rely on tens of thousands of households and small businesses changing their daily behavior rather than as they traditionally had, on a handful of large haulers and landfills and incinerators and expensive compacting trucks. They had to deal with Wall Street firms that embraced capital intensive waste handling strategies, large hauling and landfill companies that dominated market share, virgin material companies that did not want to compete with 40,000 local governments, federal government subsidies and several national environmental organizations that enthusiastically embraced the most capital intensive strategy of all—incineration— as a benign waste-to-energy solution. Recyclers often had to create a market for recycled materials and convince manufacturers to use them and retail stores to buy them. (more…)[3]

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Happy Birthday National Endowment for the Humanities

by David Morris | March 7, 2016 4:16 pm

On the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Richard H. Brodhead argues[1] the New Deal made possible the NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts.  For the first time Americans endorsed a federal role in promoting the general welfare and creating public goods. In the 1960s the Great Society expanded that role to include supporting the arts and humanities.  Today the very notion of “public goods” has become suspect and federal involvement in creating them is viewed by many as an outdated and even dangerous concept.





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Berta Cáceres Died For Our Sins

by David Morris | March 4, 2016 3:44 pm

On March 3rd Honduran Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres was assassinated because of the stunning victories she achieved with and on behalf of indigenous people.  And she did it against the greatest of odds. Beverly Bell of the Institute for Policy Studies gives us some details[1] about this remarkable woman and the sad role our country played in her demise.

  1. details:

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Watch: Stacy Mitchell Speaks on Amazon and Empty Storefronts

by ILSR Admin | March 4, 2016 11:57 am

ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell spoke about a strategy to rein in Amazon’s expanding market power in this presentation at the 2016 Winter Institute. The annual conference and educational event, hosted by the American Booksellers Association[1], was held in Denver on Jan. 25 and 26.

The panel discussion, “Amazon and Empty Storefronts,” focused on how Amazon is transforming the retail industry. The conversation covered a new study[2] from Civic Economics that quantifies the costs of Amazon’s expansion in terms of fiscal and land use impacts, as well as local and national policy considerations that will be critical to creating an equitable and sustainable economy.

Mitchell spoke with Matt Cunningham and Dan Houston of Civic Economics, with a welcome from ABA CEO Oren Teicher. (more…)[3]

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Watch: Stacy Mitchell Speaks on the New Localism

by ILSR Admin | March 4, 2016 11:27 am

ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell spoke about policy to shape the next phase of the local economy movement at the 2016 Winter Institute. The annual conference and educational event, hosted by the American Booksellers Association[1], was held in Denver on Jan. 25 and 26.

In this plenary panel, “The New Localism,” Mitchell spoke in conversation with other thought leaders and experts in local economies. The discussion covered how the U.S. is poised to begin a new phase of the local economy movement, and how, even as more consumers shop locally, we’re also facing critical policy decisions that will affect and shape the economy for years to come.

The other panelists were Joe Minicozzi, principal at Urban3, and Matt Cunningham and Dan Houston of Civic Economics. The panel was moderated by ABA CEO Oren Teicher.


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Report: Mighty Microgrids

by Matt Grimley | March 3, 2016 10:00 am

Communities all over the country are finding ways to break the macro barriers to microgrids. As we flip from a top-down to bottom-up grid management structure, major policy barriers must be lifted in order to expand energy democracy to customers and producers.



Executive Summary

The electric grid is no longer a 20th-century, one-way system. A constellation of distributed energy technologies is paving the way for “microgrids,” a combination of smart electric devices, power generation, and storage resources, connected to one or many loads, that can connect and disconnect from the grid at-will.


A group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid and that connects and disconnects from such grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island mode.


Expanding Uses

For years, microgrids were most common at hospitals and military bases — places that require more reliability than the aging grid offers. Today, microgrids are increasingly used for more:

Opportunity to Grow

The economic case for microgrids grows as the cost of distributed generation and energy storage continue to fall. Some companies already offer turnkey “nanogrids” that serve a single building. Larger, community microgrids are also being built, testing out the technology, and the business and legal models.

A few states such as New York and California are changing the rules and offering funding to accelerate development of microgrids.


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Clean Coalition’s Community Microgrids – Episode 29 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by Matt Grimley | March 3, 2016 1:07 am

Most microgrids today are single buildings that rely on diesel generators to run when the grid is out. They’re simple backup, redundant power.

But some more advanced microgrids, such as the Clean Coalition’s planned community microgrids[1], are looking into the future, when multiple sources of generation can support a community of homes and businesses[2].

In anticipation of the release of ILSR’s new report, “Mighty Microgrids,” ILSR is releasing two podcasts with the developers, regulators, and practitioners of microgrids in the United States today. This is the first.


Feature Community Microgrid Traditional Microgrid
Scale Spans an entire substation grid area, securing benefits for thousands of customers. Covers only a single customer location or a small number of adjacent locations
Cost Offers a more cost-effective solution by: 1) achieving much broader scale of DER deployment and 2) utilizing a systems approach that identifies optimal locations for DER in context of existing local distribution grid assets and loads. Maximizes benefits for single customer but does little for the local grid. Replicating this approach across an entire community area would be: 1) extraordinarily expensive and 2) fail to leverage and optimize the existing distribution grid assets
Grid resilience and security Provides backup power to prioritized loads that are critical to the entire community, such as police and fire stations, water treatment centers, emergency shelters, etc. Provides backup power to only a single location or customer.
Scalability Enables easy replication and scaling across any distribution grid area. Requires tedious work to implement at each individual location; starting from scratch in terms of both analysis and physical assets.

Chart from Clean Coalition

Intended for Long Island[3] and Hunters Point in San Francisco[4], these microgrids are designed to to optimize local, rooftop solar energy. That means moving distributed solar to 25 to 50 percent of a local area’s annual energy consumption, a feat unprecedented in microgrid technology today, let alone on the larger electric grid.

Craig Lewis, the executive director of the Clean Coalition, joined John Farrell last week to talk about these microgrid projects, why microgrids are moving beyond use in just single buildings, and what policy changes would help his initiative the most.


Planning Ahead

In the town of East Hampton, the Long Island Community Microgrid Project will be designed around the distribution network under a single substation, serving several thousand customers, says Lewis. A substation, where cross-country transmission lines move energy to the smaller distribution power lines, is in this case a building block to remaking the electric grid from the ground-up. Specific solar, storage, demand response technologies, and onsite generators will be used to provide almost “indefinite” backup to critical facilities such as a water filtration plant and a firehouse.

“You’re getting the highest performance at the least cost,” says Lewis.

While deferring more than $300 million of new transmission investment for the local utility, PSEG Long Island, all 15 MW of the local solar will be procured through a feed-in tariff. Property owners and third parties renting roofs will be directly reimbursed for their power production. In all, the Clean Coalition estimates that of every dollar invested here and at their Hunters Point Community Microgrid, 50 percent will remain local, largely in the form of local wages and jobs.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 2.49.13 PM

The Hunters Point substation area (above) serves more than 35,000 customers.
Image credit: Clean Coalition

Behind-the-meter and Behind-the-times

Microgrid rules across the states support only behind-the-meter microgrids, those that serve only one building’s load and do not produce excess energy for other entities. In its Reforming the Energy Vision[11], the New York Public Service Commission is beginning to encourage by microgrids to produce energy for more than one user. In the end, the NY PSC seeks to reform electric utilities into grid market operators that will be disinterested in who owns, sells, and distributes electricity. While the NY PSC has been quick to incentivize third-party ownership, Lewis acknowledges there needs to be more work done on the technological end.

“If you try to design market mechanisms before you know what the technologies are capable of, you end up with very suboptimal outcomes,” says Lewis. There is a need still to incentivize everybody to cooperate, including the incumbent utility, to understand the full extent of the benefit to the ratepayers. Then regulators can design market incentives to award microgrids and other distributed resources.

Tension in the Wires

Right now distributed energy resources represent a small, small precentage of the total annual energy usage across the United States. But as distributed energy such as rooftop solar becomes cheaper and more common, more microgrids will come online. In the end, the need for large power plants and transmission lines will decline 

“You can’t local resilience if you’re getting all your resources from remote locations,” says Lewis.

One big boost to microgrid development would be the creation of a distribution-level wholesale energy market for distributed energy, and not just in terms of pure power, or kilowatt-hours, generated. “The default has been to reward kilowatt-hours,” says Lewis. “That’s real power. But there’s also reactive power. There’s also grid services to provide frequency.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 2.45.45 PM

You can serve your own loads, or build a huge power plant to serve the wholesale market over transmission lines…
but there is still no local wholesale market for serving energy to your neighbors.

That means the market must be designed to reward frequency balancing and voltage support.

When it comes to providing frequency balancing, the most important metric is speed. There’s nothing that can react faster than local energy storage, both in discharging and storing excess energy. A fossil-fueled power plant cannot react fast enough to sudden local load changes.

In addition, distributed energy better supports voltage than centralized generation. Voltage decays over while being sent on long transmission and distribution lines. 

It seems that local, distributed energy is getting a play within microgrids, and within the next few years, the Clean Coalition’s community microgrids hope to show the full potential of community power.

More information on the Clean Coalition’s Community Microgrid Initiative and their other initiatives can be found on their website.[12]

This is the 29th edition of Local Energy Rules[13], an ILSR podcast with Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.

It is published intermittently on, but you can Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[14] or RSS/XML[15]

This article originally posted at[16]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[17] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[18] update.

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MD Bill Introduced That Names ILSR to State Task Force

by Brenda Platt | February 26, 2016 1:35 am

Maryland House Bill 743 – Yard Waste and Food Residuals Diversion and Infrastructure Task Force[1], sponsored by Delegate Shane Robinson (District 39), would create a Task Force to identify means to promote investment in infrastructure to expand food waste recovery, evaluate the current recovery of food waste in Maryland, identify opportunities for expansion, and more. The Task Force would report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. ILSR helped to write the bill and is named as 1 of 20 organizations to be represented on the Task Force.

On February 24th, the bill was heard before the House of Delegates’ Committee on the Environment and Transportation.  ILSR arranged the panel of experts to testify at the hearing in Annapolis in support of the bill, which is unopposed.

Testimony and Resources

Christopher Bradford (Organic Agriculture Recycling), MD Delegate Shane Robinson, Josh Etim (ILSR), Brenda Platt (ILSR), Mike Toole (MD-DC Composting Council), Vinnie Bevivino (Chesapeake Compost Works), and Beth LeaMond (Greenbelters for Zero Waste).[8]

Christopher Bradford (Organic Agriculture Recycling), MD Delegate Shane Robinson, Josh Etim (ILSR), Brenda Platt (ILSR), Mike Toole (MD-DC Composting Council), Vinnie Bevivino (Chesapeake Compost Works), and Beth LeaMond (Greenbelters for Zero Waste).


  1. Maryland House Bill 743 – Yard Waste and Food Residuals Diversion and Infrastructure Task Force:
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Google Fiber’s Dark Fiber Announcement Will Change How Cities Build Networks

by Rebecca Toews | February 22, 2016 12:19 pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 22, 2016

CONTACT: Rebecca Toews,[1],


Google Fiber’s Dark Fiber Announcement Will Change How Cities Build Networks

This morning, Huntsville, Alabama put a nail in the coffin of telephone and cable monopolies. The city is building a dark fiber network for any ISP to use– and Google Fiber was the first to jump on board.

Fiber is the gold standard, offering faster and more reliable Internet access than cable and DSL, but ISPs have generally struggled with its high capital costs.

“Now, cities can ensure everyone has access to the fiber and let ISPs compete over it, much as cities build roads and businesses use them to compete,” says Christopher Mitchell[2], the director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Think of this like a shopping mall with an anchor tenant. This provides legitimacy for the model, will help cities secure financing, and entice other city leaders to follow Huntsville’s lead.”

This decision means the investment in dark fiber becomes more viable and valuable to cities. They retain ownership to maximize public benefits, and open up space for independent ISPs to innovate and provide options for the local businesses and residents..

We applaud Huntsville for its innovation and Google for encouraging a model that will result in more competition and choice.

About Christopher Mitchell

Christopher Mitchell is the go-to national expert on Municipal Networks. He advises the White House on publicly-owned networks, the FCC on policy improvements, and city government officials on what they need to do to bring their communities access and competition.[3] tracks publicly owned Internet networks and gathers resources for cities like Huntsville so that they can implement smart policies that help bring them toward a 21st century future.

For interviews please contact Rebecca Toews at 612-808-0689[4]  or at For more on the goals met by community broadband providers, please visit:[5].


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Small Ohio Town to Feature Large Distributed Solar and Storage

by John Farrell | February 22, 2016 11:31 am

Energy storage is the “next charge[1]” for distributed renewable energy, and the small town of Minster, OH, provides a powerful illustration.

Committed to building a 3-megawatt (AC) solar facility, the village’s energy department[2] (municipal utility) was blindsided by the state legislature in mid-2014. The state’s energy policy had previously favored purchase of solar from in-state resources, but an abrupt change to the state’s solar renewable energy credit market[3] removed this provision, sharply reducing the long-term potential revenue for the Minster solar array.

The village wasn’t put off, but instead decided to see how battery storage could recoup the lost solar credits. A 7-megawatt battery (one of the largest in the country) will allow the village to reduce energy costs by deferring transmission and distribution costs, improving power quality, and shaving peak demand[4]. The contractor, Half Moon Ventures, will also be able to sell “frequency regulation services” into the regional grid system, helping improve overall system reliability. Don Harrod, village administrator, says the “revenue stacking” from the multiple uses of the battery is what makes the project so attractive for the village and the investor.

The solar array came online just weeks ago[5], and will sharply reduced the town’s need to purchase power from the wholesale market, and Harrod reports that the energy storage facility should be online by mid-March. The solar array is projected to provide about 13% of the village’s total electricity needs on an annual basis, and it provides a similar portion of the village’s peak energy demand of 23 megawatts.

The village isn’t done with solar, either. In the coming weeks, the village council will be discussing a community solar array to allow residents and businesses to buy in.

At just under 3,000 residents, the village of Minster is rather small, but it’s renewable energy and storage project is anything but.

This article originally posted at[6]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[7] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[8] update.

Photo credit: USDA via Flickr[9] (CC BY 2.0 license)

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New Research Finds Water Privatization Raises Rates

by David Morris | February 19, 2016 6:06 pm

Food & Water Watch has issued a thoroughly researched report[1] on water privatization. A survey of more than 200 public and private water systems found that private suppliers charge significantly more than public systems. The 10 largest initiatives increased water rates  on average 15 percent a year after privatization. After local governments brought water systems back in-house their rates, on average, were 21 percent cheaper.

Many cities privatize their water systems to generate a much-needed quick infusion of revenue.  But the report offers compelling evidence that this decision is penny-wise and pound-foolish. “The funding that a city receives by selling or leasing its water system is effectively an expensive loan that a water company will recover from consumers through water bills. A Food & Water Watch analysis estimated that the typical interest rate on this loan would be 11 percent. This is 56 percent more expensive than public financing through a typical municipal revenue bond.”

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Where Do The Presidential Candidates Stand On The Proposed Trade Pact?

by David Morris | February 18, 2016 1:21 pm

In early February 12 nations, including the U.S. signed the highly controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This trade agreement would diminish U.S. sovereignty, undermine democracy and create a new world court where corporations can sue governments and corporate lawyers decide the cases. The TPP now goes to Congress for a vote.

If you want to know about TPP and keep up with its progress, visit Public Citizen[1]. If you want to know where the Presidential candidates stand on the trade agreement go here[2]. You’ll note some hemming and hawing by the candidates and a few about-faces. Bernie Sanders has been the most consistently and outspokenly opposed.

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With 269 Stores Closing, Is this the Beginning of the End for Walmart?

by Stacy Mitchell | February 17, 2016 10:51 am

All great empires eventually fall.  This is as true in retail as it is in geopolitics.  Often the descent into oblivion takes decades.  A&P, which was once such a formidable market power that it was the subject of antitrust hearings in Congress, began to falter in the 1950s, some 80 years after cloning its first store.  At the time, it was by far the largest grocer in the country.  It would remain the industry leader for another quarter of a century, even as its stores seemed increasingly outdated and its corporate practices inexplicably unable to keep up.  After several rounds of store closures in the 1970s and 1980s, and a bankruptcy filing in 2010, A&P finally threw in the towel for good just last year.  By then, it was a two-bit player in the grocery business, its once continent-spanning empire now confined to the Northeast.

The fall of Montgomery Ward was also a long time coming.  The company altered the course of 20th century retailing by pioneering the general merchandise store, and then it tripped and stumbled[1] for nearly 50 years before its final Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2000.  Those decades saw the company undergo various retrenchments, corporate takeovers, and attempted reinventions.  “A very difficult retail environment simply did not permit us to complete the turnaround that might have been possible,” Montgomery Ward’s last CEO still maintained on the day the lights finally went out, 84 years after the retailer opened its first store.

And so when Walmart, which turns 54 years old this year, announced[2] that it would close 269 stores, including 154 in the U.S., one had to wonder if this might be the beginning of the chain’s inevitable end.  We’ll only know for sure in hindsight, perhaps decades from now.

But at the moment, it would be a mistake to leap to any conclusions.  Walmart is a global powerhouse.  It has half a trillion dollars in annual revenue and a track record that warns against underestimating it.  Walmart is so vast that these newly shuttered stores account for less than 1 percent of its total real estate footprint.  And when it announced the closures, the company clarified that it’s still planning to open over 140 new stores in the U.S. this year, and more than 200 internationally.

Walmart’s store closures may be less an initial stumble along a path toward demise than a move to abandon communities that Walmart has decided simply aren’t worth the trouble.  The company’s U.S. pullback really consists of two distinct events.  One is the closure of 52 stores, across 20 states, that Walmart claims are underperforming.  The other is Walmart’s across-the-board abandonment of its Express format, a group of 102 small stores, each about the size of a Walgreen’s and stocked with groceries and pharmacy goods. (more…)[3]

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Downton Abbey and Obamacare

by David Morris | February 16, 2016 9:36 pm

As the rightly acclaimed tv series Downton Abbey unspools its final episode some fans have criticized the producers decision to devote so much time to a debate about the future of Downton’s Cottage Hospital. The show makes the issue mostly personal with delightfully snippy exchanges between Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham who speaks for a way of life that is passing, and her cousin Isobel, widow and daughter of physicians and trained as a nurse during WWI, who is the voice of modernity. But underneath the repartee lies a serious and persistent issue: what should be the relationship of the community to the emerging age of a high tech, highly capitalized and highly specialized medical system?

As Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, Senior Vice President of the Washington State Hospital Association, who has taken a keen interest in the show told me, “They’re asking the right questions. Who will be in charge? Will someone tell me what to do? Will we be able to continue to provide free care?”

The US and British health systems, while dramatically different, have had to grapple with these same questions. And in their exploration they’ve discovered that case can be made for big and for small but the weight of evidence suggests that the optimum medical configuration is when high tech and specialization is in service to responsible and accountable community hospitals.

In 1859, in real life, Albert Napper opened the first cottage hospital in Cranley. As Doctor Irvine Loudon at Oxford University observes[1], it was “built explicitly as a warm, clean idealized version of the farm labourer’s cottage in order to reassure patients.” A familiar doctor would treat people in a familiar atmosphere. Communities rallied around the concept. Hundreds of cottage hospitals sprang up and over the decades evolved into relatively sophisticated operations, often with state-of-the-art medicine and surgery.

In a very early episode in the series a farmer John Drake was admitted to the hospital with a terminal case of Dropsy. Isobel suggested to a Dr. Clarkson they use a very new technique. He reluctantly agreed and Drake promptly revived. By 1925, the year in which the final season of the tv series is set, voluntary hospitals constituted about 40 percent[2] of all hospitals. They were largely supported by contributions and staffed with volunteers. There were government hospitals as well: The infirmaries that grew out of the much-despised workhouses of the 19th century. But to many people these remained unwelcome venue.


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Cultivating Community Composting Forum and Workshop Bring Composters Together

by Rebecca Toews | February 16, 2016 3:19 pm

ILSR and BioCycle magazine teamed up for the National Cultivating Community Composting Forum at the US Composting Council’s International Conference & Trade Show January 25-28, 2016, in Jacksonville, Florida.

More than 70 community composters from all over the US gathered in Jacksonville to discuss best practices for community composting. From bike pedallers to urban farmers and local public works and sanitation departments, experts and entrepreneurs brainstormed ways to make their businesses and organizations more effective and efficient in recovering compostable materials from the waste stream at the community level.


Moderated by Brenda Platt of ILSR, this half-day workshop featured community composters sharing their best practices in a peer-to-peer format. Topics included: creative financing, operator training, food scrap collection, equipment and small-scale systems, outreach and communications, cooperative structures, volunteer management, and best management practices for the compost process. Our goal was for participants to learn about other initiatives and how to adapt lessons learned to their projects.




In collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[10], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance held this Forum in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show[11], #COMPOST2016,  in Jacksonville, Florida. This was the first time the USCC’s annual conference featured Pechu Kucha-style lightning presentations followed by interactive panels of responders to spark dialogue. Community composters presented on three core topics: equipment needs, collaboration with commercial haulers and sites, and government-supported programs.

The first session featured innovative strategies to grow community composting – from the NYC Compost Project to DC’s Department of Parks and Recreation, best management practices, and why local and state government should care about community composting. The second session focused on why equipment manufacturers, commercial food waste haulers, and commercial composters should care about community composting.


Why Local Government Should Support Community Composting:

Community Composting: Why You Should Care:

Why Equipment Manufacturers Should Support Community Composting:

Why Commercial Haulers & Composters Should Support Community Composting

Links to community composter blogs and other articles:

Dustin Fedako, “A Composter’s Dream” [20]Compost Pedallers

Jorge Montezuma, “COMPOST2016: Community Composting & ReFED” [21](2/3/16) Soil Masons

Andrea Carter, The Falmouth Enterprise (2/6/16) Local Composter Represents Community At National Compost 2016 Conference[22]: article featuring Mary Bunker Ryther and Compost With Me

Peter Moon, O2 Compost Winter 2016 newsletter Food Waste Collection, Composting and Urban Farming [23]



  1. View Agenda:
  2. Composting Best Management Practices:
  3. Composting Equipment & Systems:
  4. Bike Collection Equipment & Systems:
  5. Volunteer & Staff Management:
  6. Creative Financing & Fundraising:
  7. Master Composter Train-the-Trainer Programs:
  8. Outreach & Telling the Story:
  9. View Agenda:
  10. BioCycle:
  11. USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show:
  12. The City of New York’s Investment in Community Composting:
  13. DC Community Compost Cooperative Network:
  14. Community Equity & Access,:
  15. Recognizing Best Management Practices for Urban Compost Sites:
  16. From Manual to Equipment-Assisted — An Evolution:
  17. Small-Scale Systems for Community Composters: Meeting the Needs,:
  18. Working with Commercial Haulers and Composters:
  19. Rural Farmer & Commercial Composter Collaborations:
  20. “A Composter’s Dream” :
  21. “COMPOST2016: Community Composting & ReFED” :
  22. Local Composter Represents Community At National Compost 2016 Conference:
  23. Food Waste Collection, Composting and Urban Farming :

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Independent Businesses Report Growing Sales and Hiring, but Policies Tilted in Favor of Large Companies Hold Them Back

by Olivia LaVecchia | February 10, 2016 10:24 am

A large national survey has found that public support for independent businesses led to brisk sales and a sharp increase in hiring in 2015, but biased policies and other obstacles are limiting their success.


MINNEAPOLIS, MINN.  (Feb. 10, 2016) — Independent businesses experienced healthy sales growth in 2015, buoyed by their strong community ties and growing public awareness of the benefits of locally owned businesses, according to a large national survey released today. (Download the full report.[1])

The Independent Business Survey[2], which is conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[3] in partnership with the Advocates for Independent Business[4] and is now in its 9th year, gathered data from over 3,200 independent businesses. The respondents reported brisk sales in 2015, with revenue growing an average of 6.6 percent. Among independent retailers, who comprised just under half of survey respondents, revenue increased 4.7 percent in 2015, including a 3.1 percent gain during the holiday season. These figures contrast sharply with the performance of many national retail chains, and overall holiday retail sales, which rose just 1.6 percent in December according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

This growth led to a significant increase in hiring. Overall employment at the independent businesses surveyed expanded by 5.6 percent in 2015, with more than 30 percent of respondents reporting the addition of at least one employee.

Local First initiatives are part of what’s strengthening independent businesses, the survey found. Two-thirds of respondents in cities with an active Local First, or “buy local,” campaign said that the initiative is having a noticeable positive impact on their business, citing benefits such as new customers and increased loyalty among existing customers.

About one-third of businesses in Local First cities also said that the initiative had led them to become more engaged in advocating on public policy issues, and 44 percent said that the campaign had made elected officials more aware and supportive of independent businesses.

That’s significant because the survey also found that independent businesses are facing a number of challenges, many related to public policy.

One obstacle is a lack of credit for businesses seeking to grow. The survey found that one in three independent businesses that applied for a bank loan in the last two years failed to secure one. That figure was 54 percent among minority-owned businesses, and 41 percent among young firms, whose expansion has historically been a key source of net job growth. (more…)[5]

  1. Download the full report.:
  2. Independent Business Survey:
  3. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  4. Advocates for Independent Business:
  5. (more…):

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Zapped by the Utility: 5 Reasons Raising Fixed Fees is Unfair

by John Farrell | February 5, 2016 3:47 pm

Like mine, your eyes probably glaze when you see items like “fuel cost adjustment clause,” but tucked in your monthly electric bill are two big components that matter. One is a fixed amount you pay to be connected to the grid every month. The second is a variable portion is based on what you use.

Your utility—like those in Reading, CA[1]; Lincoln, NE[2]; or Indianapolis[3]—may already be planning to shift more of your bill to the fixed portion, undercutting your power to reduce your energy costs.

There are five reasons this shift isn’t fair or reasonable.

1. Economics 101: The Wrong Incentives

When fixed charges rise, customers have a smaller portion of the bill they can control. This reduces the financial incentive to reduce energy use, because energy savings won’t result in significant cost reductions. It reduces the incentive for customers to produce their own energy, again because energy savings won’t be rewarded. It’s particularly hard on customers with fixed incomes[4].

It also changes the utility’s incentive. With more fixed charges, main[5]utilities can make costly investments in un-needed new power plants, because customers can’t avoid those costs by reducing their energy use. It discourages more efficient deployment of infrastructure. Evidence from regional grid operators shows this is already happening, with the ratio between peak energy demand and the average energy demand [6]growing[7], meaning many power plants are lying idle much of the year, waiting for the few periods of very high energy use.

2. Economics 101: The Myth of Cost-Price Symmetry

Utilities have suggested that because they have high fixed costs, they should have high fixed fees. But few other industries work this way, because of the wrong incentives it creates (see #1). The post office encourages efficient use of the mail system by charging per letter based on weight, not per customer, a policy that would make little distinction between Grandma Josie sending a birthday card to her grandson or Netflix mailing 100,000 DVDs. Starbucks charges more based on the complexity of the beverage, not $5 to enter the store. Both of these businesses have high fixed costs for employees, premises, and equipment. High fixed charges would create an unfair shift in costs to occasional users, who incur minimal costs.

This slideshow illustrates the absurdity of fixed cost = fixed price.

Zapped by the Utility: What if other industries could shock consumers like electric utilities? from John Farrell[8]

3. Abuse of Monopoly

One major distinction between Netflix or Starbucks and your electric utility is that the latter is likely a monopoly. This government-sanctioned market power means that, unlike competitive business, its customers can’t switch to a different electric company when they’re treated unfairly. As a monopoly, the electric company has a responsibility to the public interest, and that does not include a pricing structure that is unfair, and that reduces incentives for wise behavior.

4. Energy Producers Add Value

An increasing number of electric customers are producing their own energy, usually from solar. These customers sharply reduce their electricity consumption, reducing payments to the utility. In response, utilities seek higher fixed fees to guarantee higher payments from these customers. But utilities are ignoring the value of this energy. Numerous “value of solar” studies [9]have shown that the total benefits from solar-producing customers outweighs the cost to the utility, and often that the value of solar energy—produced at time of costly peak energy use and close to where energy is consumed—is more than the producer is receiving.

Using higher fixed fees is unfair to solar producers and non-solar customers who receive the economic benefits of having more distributed solar on the electric grid.

5. It’s Short-Sighted

Despite clear financial and economic reasons to avoid fixed fees, utilities that increase them are also undermining their long-term interest. When customers have reduced flexibility and choice to reduce their energy costs, they will necessarily seek alternatives. And if higher fixed fees reduce the incentive to conserve or install grid-connected solar, lower battery costs in the next few years may encourage[10] customers[11] to disconnect entirely, exacerbating the utility’s revenue problem.

What’s the Fair and Reasonable Price Model?

There are a number of options for utility regulators to align pricing and incentives in a way that covers system costs and makes the grid more efficient.

Want to learn more? See this article on the future of utility rate design [12]and a report from the Regulatory Assistance Project suggesting the optimum design for residential electricity pricing includes a low fixed charge, time-of-use pricing, and inclining block rates[13]. Finally, this report from Synapse Energy[14] contains great charts near the end on the impact of fixed charges.

This article originally posted at[15]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[16] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[17] update.

Photo credit: Timothy Vogel via Flickr[18] (CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

  1. Reading, CA:
  2. Lincoln, NE:
  3. Indianapolis:
  4. customers with fixed incomes:
  5. [Image]:
  6. the ratio between peak energy demand and the average energy demand :
  7. growing:
  8. John Farrell: //
  9. Numerous “value of solar” studies :
  10. encourage:
  11. customers:
  12. the future of utility rate design :
  13. a low fixed charge, time-of-use pricing, and inclining block rates:
  14. this report from Synapse Energy:
  16. Twitter:
  17. Democratic Energy weekly:
  18. via Flickr:

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Seniors, Low-Income, Disabled Communities Pay the Price in St. Paul

by ILSR | February 1, 2016 11:02 am

For seniors, low-income residents, and the disabled in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a Comcast discount within the city’s franchise agreement is not all it was cracked up to be. The Pioneer Press recently reported[1] that, as eligible subscribers seek the ten percent discount guaranteed by the agreement, they are finding the devil is in the details – or lack of them.

This is a warning to those who attempt to negotiate with Comcast for better service. Comcast may make deals that it knows are unenforceable.

“No Discount For You!”

For years, Comcast held the only franchise agreement with the city of St. Paul. In 2015, the city entered into a new agreement with the cable provider and, as in the past, the provider agreed to offer discounts for low-income and senior subscribers. Such concessions are common because a franchise agreement gives a provider easy access to a pool of subscribers.

It seems like a fair deal, but where there is a way to squirm out of a commitment, Comcast will wriggle its way out.

Comcast is refusing to provide the discount when subscribers bundle services, which are typically offered at reduced prices. Because the contract is silent on the issue of combining discounts, the city of approximately 298,000 has decided it will not challenge Comcast’s interpretation:

The company notes that the ten percent senior discount applies only to the cable portion of a customer’s bill. Comcast has maintained that it is under no legal obligation to combine discounts or promotions, and that bundled services provide a steeper discount anyway.

Subscribers who want to take advantage of the discounts will have to prove their senior status and/or their low-income status. In order to do so, Comcast representatives have been requesting a copy of a driver’s license or state issued i.d.

CenturyLink Picks Up the Baton

In November, the city approved an additional franchise agreement with competitor CenturyLink. That agreement also provides that seniors, low-income households, and disabled residents are eligible to receive a ten percent discount. CenturyLink can, in the alternative, offer a discount of $5 off a subscriber’s cable bill if a subscriber applies for the low-income discount. In order to receive this discount, the subscriber must prove they are enrolled in a public assistance program. CenturyLink is not compelled to provide both the $5 reduction and the ten percent discount under the terms of the agreement.

The CenturyLink contract states that bundling discounts will not forfeit the $5 discount but does not say the same for the alternative ten percent discount.


Seniors on the Chopping Block

Discounts for low-income seniors are at risk in the CenturyLink contract reports the Pioneer Press. The contract offers the company an “out” by allowing it to exchange a senior discount to residents for free gigabit per second (Gbps) service at centralized locations. Rather than offering a ten percent discount to senior subscribers at their homes, CenturyLink can provide the high-speed connectivity to two St. Paul senior centers or to one senior center and a community center and present two training session per year on using the Internet.

My own parents, who are elderly and leave the house less frequently than they have in the past, depend on their Internet connection to stay in touch with their kids. A number of elderly folks are lower-income. Ten percent, a modest sum to a profit machine like Comcast, could be the tipping point for whether or not elderly people living on fixed incomes subscribe.

Would I rather have Mom trudging through the St. Paul snow to wait in line at the senior center to Skype in a noisy room filled with other seniors? No. Will Mom go to the senior center? Probably not. This trade-off is not equitable.

When You’re All Lawyered Up, It’s Easy to Break Promises

As franchise agreements expire[2] across the country, communities like St. Paul will be negotiating new contracts or considering other options[3]. Companies like Comcast and CenturyLink, backed by armies of lawyers, have turned backhanded negotiating into an art form. Cities like St. Paul employ smart, capable attorneys, but telecommunications is highly specialized; few communities have legal staff experienced in this field.

Lose The Big Companies, Gain Control

Contrary to the typical behavior of Comcast and CenturyLink, publicly owned networks have a history of lowering prices or increasing speeds[4] for free. When we ask why, decision makers usually tell us they make the change because it’s good for the community. Subscribers are the shareholders when a network is publicly owned.

Communities that invest in municipal networks shake off dependence on big providers like Comcast and CenturyLink. By investing in their own infrastructure, they spur economic development[5], save public dollars, and become more self-reliant.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[6]

  1. recently reported:
  2. franchise agreements expire:
  3. other options:
  4. lowering prices or increasing speeds:
  5. economic development:
  6. here:

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New Fossil Fuel Power Plants: Assets or Liabilities?

by John Farrell | January 28, 2016 4:35 pm

In any conversation about the transition to a renewable energy economy, solar and wind advocates will eventually come up against the term “stranded assets.” It’s a misleading term, usually deployed in defense of legacy fossil fuel power plants (and their owners).

But as times change, “stranded assets” can be redefined and in the next few years it could become a powerful tool for advancing a 100% renewable energy future.

Defining a Stranded Asset

An asset is something you have of value, like a house or a car. In the power sector, it can mean a power plant, a substation, or a power line. “Stranding” an asset means shutting it down either a) before the end of its scheduled life or b) before you’ve finished paying for it, like scrapping a 5-year old car. Under threat of scrapping power plants built 5, 15, or even 50 years ago, utilities warn regulators of the cost of “stranded assets.”

But defending old, dirty power plants as “stranded assets” uses accounting terminology to paper over the tension between the interests of a utility interests and its customers.

Shuttering Old “Assets”

SC_IG_Part01[1]Take a coal power plant, for example. For every kilowatt-hour of electricity it produces, it also generates these negative outputs:

Cumulatively, the Harvard School of Public Health estimates the environmental and health burden adds 18¢ per kilowatt-hour of power[2]—$345 billion per year in total—far outstripping the cost to produce the electricity. For comparison, a new coal power plant produces electricity alone for a minimum of 6.5¢ per kilowatt-hour, while wind power (with none of the health and environmental damage) produces power for 4-8¢ per kilowatt-hour.

In other words, the full cost of energy from a coal power plant far outstrips the value of its electricity. In accounting speak, a power plant that produces more costs than benefits could be characterized as a “liability.”

Uncovering Old Liabilities

Utilities defend these liabilities with arguments that millions (maybe billions) of dollars were spent to build and upgrade these power plant to be marginally more efficient and marginally less polluting. And recovering those costs requires running that coal plant until the end of its scheduled life (40, 50, 60 years or more). Debts were incurred, suggest utility executives, and today’s electric customer is bound to pay them or risk stranding these power plant “assets”.infographic-image4[3]

Of course, utilities don’t pay most of the costs mentioned above, so in their narrow view a coal plant can be considered an asset even as it remains a major liability to the average electric customer.

Furthermore, the assumption that electric customers should be on the hook for these legacy costs assumes that they were rational at the time. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that investments made in coal power plants, even decades ago, were bad bets. The evidence includes:

Decisions to invest more customer dollars in these power plants in the past 20 years were irresponsible in light of the available alternatives.

In other words, legacy fossil fuel power plants are not assets, but liabilities, and electric customers are better off if utilities close them down and replace them with inexpensive, less polluting energy sources.

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign[7] has been very successful by getting utilities to admit that their old coal fired power plants are liabilities that should be shuttered.

Building New Fossil Fuel Liabilities

Unfortunately, in the past fifteen years, utilities have largely replaced this coal-fired power with natural gas[8].

us new power plant capacity 2003-15 ILSR[9]

While marginally cleaner to burn than coal, these new power plants are at risk of becoming liabilities just as their coal-fired predecessors, in 4 ways.

For one, the total carbon footprint of natural gas power plants may be the same, because methane leakage during extraction may eliminate the relatively lower carbon emissions during combustion. New laws restricting carbon emissions will result in compliance costs that power plant owners will pass on to electric customers.

Second, the cost of renewable energy resources has been falling rapidly (wind by 61%, solar by 82% since 2009[10]) and wind is already less costly than new baseload natural gas power. If utilities have to sell this power in competitive markets, their power plants will be unable to compete. If not, they are being poor stewards of their captive customers’ resources when they have less expensive generation options.

Third, new gas power plants put the risk of fuel price volatility onto electric customers, who have these costs passed through directly onto their bills. Natural gas prices are at historic lows, but there’s little guarantee that will last the 40-year life of the power plant.

natural gas prices for electricity generation ilsr[11]

Finally, as the world moves toward meaningful action to combat climate change, the 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 will cut off the useful economic life of new fossil fuel power plants. After 2050, it will be nearly impossible to meet emissions targets and still be operating any fossil fuel electricity generation. A natural gas plant approved in 2016 might come online in 2017 at the earliest. The 33 years between then and 2050 are already seven years less than utilities typically plan for a “useful economic life.” In other words, a new proposed fossil fuel power plant is already a stranded asset if the utility has not shortened the useful economic life (a calculation that would likely make the power plant uneconomic).

This issue is coming up all across the country as monopoly utilities file their 15-year resource plans. A perfect example is Xcel Energy in Minnesota, seeking to replace much of the generating capacity from two old coal plants[12] with new natural gas plants[13]. (We’ve already sent their president an open letter[14] asking them to identify a better replacement option).

For existing power plants, “stranding” assets may make the utility balance sheet look worse, but it can be the best thing for the health and welfare of the public. For financiers of new power plants, it’s unlikely to be economical to finance a new fossil fuel power plant ever again.

This article originally posted at[15]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[16] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[17] update.

Photo credit: Ross Catrow via Flickr[18] (CC BY-SA 2.0 license), text added.

  1. [Image]:
  2. the environmental and health burden adds 18¢ per kilowatt-hour of power:
  3. [Image]:
  4. less expensive expensive power from energy efficiency:
  5. price competitive with fossil fuel generation since the late 1990s:
  6. Economically competitive large and small scale renewable power generation:
  7. Beyond Coal campaign:
  8. largely replaced this coal-fired power with natural gas:
  9. [Image]:
  10. wind by 61%, solar by 82% since 2009:
  11. [Image]:
  12. generating capacity from two old coal plants:
  13. new natural gas plants:
  14. letter:
  16. Twitter:
  17. Democratic Energy weekly:
  18. via Flickr:

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David Morris Interviewed on KFAI’s Truth To Tell Radio Show

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 21, 2016 12:47 pm

In 2014, on ILSR’s 40th anniversary co-founder David Morris sat down with Siobhan Kierans and Tom O’Connell, co-hosts of TruthToTell[1], a weekly public affairs program on KFAI radio in Minneapolis to talk about our history, our approach and our decentralist perspective.


TruthToTell Description:

AIRING MONDAYS @ 9:00 a.m., TruthToTell is produced by CivicMedia/Minnesota as part of KFAI’s public affairs programming schedule.  TruthToTell delves into issues often not covered in depth by other regional news and public affairs outlets and too often not with the goal of engaging citizens in resolving the critical state, local, and regional issues they face day-to-day. Stream KFAI Live here[2].


  1. TruthToTell:
  2. here:

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Just How Democratic are Rural Electric Cooperatives?

by Matt Grimley | January 13, 2016 2:30 pm

Randy Wilson knew you had to start somewhere.

Knocking on doors and hanging around retail store parking lots, he and volunteers from the citizen group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth[1] collected signatures. After weeks of holding out clipboards, they collected the more than 500 signatures needed to run for the board of the Jackson Energy Cooperative in Appalachian Kentucky.

It was unprecedented for Wilson in 2009 to challenge a sitting board member. Never in the cooperative’s 71-year history had a board member run opposed.

“The conversation needed to be had,” says Wilson, a folk musician, educator and first-time politician. His picture turned up on the front page of the newspaper. His voice reverberated on the local radio show. He spoke to his platform of financing energy efficiency improvements on the electricity bill (known in energy policy circles as on-bill financing), and moving the local economy past its dependency on coal to alternative energy sources like solar.

Wilson notes that he had a challenge getting his message to resonate with the cooperative’s membership.

“People didn’t say anything about, ‘We gotta save our coal miners,’” he says. “They never said that, nor did they say anything about the environment. Not neither of those was on their mind. The only thing on their mind was that damned electric bill.”

The cooperative’s annual meeting, where the election for board of directors was held, was more of a festival[2], so as to encourage participation. Cooperative member-owners dished up plates of food. A band played gospel music. Teenagers accepted scholarships for college. Co-op staff passed out energy-efficient light bulbs. An antique car show revved up with almost a hundred participants. A skydiver jumped out overhead with one of the world’s largest American flags trailing behind him. Civil war re-creators fired off cannons[3].

firing cannons[4]

At the end, Wilson wasn’t surprised that he lost the election 740 votes to 151. Less than two percent of members turned out to vote. But the use of “proxy” votes made a huge impression on him. Mostly used at corporate shareholder meetings, proxy votes allow one member to delegate his or her voting ability to another member. In the case of Wilson and Jackson Energy, the electric cooperative had collected hundreds of proxy votes from its members, then handed them to other members present at the meeting, telling them to vote as they saw fit (meaning, for the incumbent).

There’s no blame in Wilson’s voice, only laughter. He knows the cooperative’s board of directors was scared.

“It was all new to them,” says Wilson about the election. “Nobody had really spoken. It had all been cut and dry before.”

The Roots of Democracy

Incumbents running unopposed, questionable election procedures, low turnout: for many cooperatives, Wilson’s story is not unusual.

It wasn’t always this way. Conceived during the violent winds of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, electric cooperatives — like many other rural cooperatives — were a way for rural people to band together and better their lives. Formed from five-dollar contributions from prospective members, electric cooperatives went where investor-owned utilities wouldn’t, stringing wires into the rural and rustic corners of America. With cooperatives, profits don’t go to distant shareholders. They go to local members, who own the very business that sells them electricity.

Today, there are some 900 electric cooperatives serving 13 percent of the population, and span about three-quarters of the nation’s land.

With democratic control, cooperatives have the potential to be very responsive to member interests. Roanoke Electric Cooperative (REC) in North Carolina recently undertook an on-bill financing program to help their low-income members save energy and money[5] while paying for energy efficiency measures on their monthly bills (what Randy Wilson was proposing for his cooperative). Farmer’s Electric Cooperative (FEC) in Iowa employs more solar energy per capita than other utility in the nation[6]. The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) in Hawai’i guided the cooperative to attain close to 40 percent of its energy from renewable resources[7] while stabilizing sky-high electric rates.

But even for these progressive cooperatives, voter turnout ranges from not-so-good to not-good-at-all, according to voting data acquired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From 2006 to 2011:

In all, according to research from ILSR, more than 70 percent of cooperatives have voter turnouts of less than 10 percent (including Wilson’s Jackson Energy Cooperative, which averages just under 3 percent turnout).

low turnout for rural electric cooperative board elections ILSR[8]

Low member turnouts come at a harrowing time for electric cooperatives and the energy industry. Electric sales are stagnating[9]. Distributed energy such as rooftop solar is becoming cheaper[10] and more pervasive. Electric cooperatives, mostly dependent on coal for power, will face higher costs[11] from the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan if they attempt to hew to the status quo.

Assuming Ignorance (or Apathy)

The low turnout for cooperative elections could be lumped with historically lower turnout in federal election turnouts[12]. Municipal election turnouts are even worse, according to a University of Wisconsin study[13]. But compared to both of these, electric cooperative voting rates are still low.

lower turnout for rural electric cooperative board elections than many other elections ILSR[14]

Rory McIlmoil, a Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation member-owner and energy policy director at Appalachian Voices[15], says cooperative members usually don’t play an active role in utility affairs. He suspects it’s “mostly due to the fact the co-op members don’t quite understand what their rights and responsibilities are as member-owners of the utility.”

Typically, jobs and families come before bill savings and energy policy. Co-op members really only get involved when it hits them at home, and hits them hard.

Jan TenBruggencate, the board chair of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative[16], says that interest and turnout spikes when electricity prices are too high, or there’s a contentious issue. The utility’s turnouts—almost the highest among cooperatives—run from the low 20s to 43 percent, but KIUC’s own surveys suggest that more co-op members claim to have voted than actually do.

“As board members, it would be convenient to believe that turnout is low because people believe we’re doing a good job,” he wrote in an email. “Another option is that turnout is low because folks are frustrated and don’t feel they can make a difference. Or that they simply don’t understand the mechanics of the utility business and don’t feel competent to select a candidate. Or perhaps candidates don’t do enough to distinguish themselves. Lots of possibilities.”

Geography further worsens the matter of cooperative-member connection. Small, remote cooperatives such as KIUC or those in Alaska typically have higher voter turnout, in the 20 to 30 percent range, while those focused around populated metropolitan areas tend to have lower turnouts, often lower than five percent.

larger electric cooperatives have lower election turnout ILSR[17]

Many electric cooperatives, started to serve rural areas, now serve growing, spread-out swaths of suburbs. Many members don’t even know they are members. One cooperative organizer (preferring to be anonymous) suggests that voting rates aren’t that much different from other credit unions and other cooperatives[18], such as REI or Land O’Lakes.

“The trend seems to be,” the organizer continued in an email, “the less important co-ops make themselves [relevant] to their constituents’ understandings of their lives and their interests, the less likely those members will vote or engage with the co-op outside of the commodity transactions.”

In all, according to research from the Filene Research Institute[19] and others, only one to five percent of worldwide cooperative members participate by voting in their cooperative elections.

An Alternative Explanation: Malicious Intent

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, several electric cooperatives in the South suppressed voter turnout, gouged members with high electric rates, and abused their power. The Co-op Democracy Project[20] organized against them, helping to empower a mostly black membership to gain seats on mostly white boards of directors. The group had some success, but the anchors of local incumbency, burdened with difficult-to-access meetings, elections, and voting requirements, were often too heavy for members to lift. From the link above:

“[Electric cooperative] boards perpetuated their rule by manipulating election bylaws and by using co-op resources to gather proxy votes and ballots for themselves sometimes offering green stamps or even cash prizes in return for proxies. No one, not even [Rural Utilities Service, the federal funder of electric cooperatives] officials in Washington, appeared willing to stop them. Unchallenged, with co-op members purportedly uninterested in operations, these men simply reappointed themselves year after year.”

Since then, the political process at most electric cooperatives remains unchanged. Nominating committees made of board-nominated members still act as arbiters for candidates to run for the board. Proxy voting is still used among some electric cooperatives (though, according to anecdotes, not in food cooperatives or credit unions). These detours add to a sometimes tortuous nomination and election process, full of obscure waiting times and petition requirements, that allow the utility and its board to swing votes toward incumbents. The graphic below explains the process, also shown in the text underneath the graphic.

Rural Electric Cooperative Voting Graphic[21]

So you want to run for your electric cooperative’s board of directors? Following these steps might not be so easy.

The use of proxies may explain Missouri’s Citizen’s Electric Corporation, which had turnout regularly above 90 percent in our data, more than double the next highest. Its cooperative policy[28] brings a clue. If a member has ever used a proxy voter ballot (to allow a board member to vote on their behalf), but didn’t return a ballot in the current election, a board committee is empowered to cast a vote in their name. The member, therefore, may have her vote cast without her express permission.

When carried to extremes, these policies have resulted in the worst cases of electric cooperative abuse. Un-democratic cooperative boards have allowed paid managers to run effectively unchecked. At Choctaw Electric Cooperative in Oklahoma, the board of trustees raised member bills by as much as $150 per year[29], gave the CEO a gift of $2.1 million and allowed him to use cooperative heavy equipment for personal use. With a highly compensated board, the former CEO of the Cobb Electric Membership Cooperative in Georgia defrauded his cooperative out of millions of dollars[30] to fund his own side-businesses and a proposed coal plant. Since 2009, at least 14 lawsuits[31] have been brought against 12 other electric cooperatives that have failed to refund capital credits to their members.

But more than the prevention of the occasional, heinous scandal, electric cooperatives are simply in need of new blood to bring the cooperative up-to-date with current energy industry trends. Board members are usually old, white, and male, with incumbencies that stretch back years if not decades. Their jobs are usually less than half-time but pay anywhere from a few thousand dollars to more than $50,000[32] per year. That money is often a huge difference for rural places often without much other opportunity. Some folks simply want the job for pay and prestige of running an institution that serves as a cornerstone of the local community.

“Most electric co-ops are boys’ clubs that re-elect the same people, that develop policies that favor their children or their buddies,” says Tom “Smitty” Smith of the consumer rights advocacy nonprofit Public Citizen. Most states, Smitty adds, still believe in the myth of member-led rule and don’t regulate electric cooperatives at all (the following map illustrates state electric cooperative regulation as of 2008).

state oversight of electric cooperatives 2008 ILSR[33]

The electric cooperative has become increasingly obscure, and members, without realizing it, are losing control of the organization they own.

Democracy Reclaimed?

About a decade ago, says Smitty, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative was in trouble.

It started when a Pedernales member wanted information on how to upgrade his home with rooftop solar. Finding that the cooperative had no such program, he wanted to talk to the board, but he couldn’t get board member names. Everything, he soon found, was off limits to him, from board meetings to utility records. (FYI, it seems this anonymous member detailed everything in a pretty good documentary.)

Scandal ensued when a group of members and local newspapers dug deeper. It turned out that the Pedernales manager was stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars[34], and the board was deeply complicit and richly compensated[35].

Through bad press, pressure from legislators, and lawsuits, the board and management were forced out. Reform candidates were elected. A member bill of rights was passed, opening up the elections, nominations, and giving members full access to records and meetings for the first time.

The new board members formalized goals for 30 percent renewable energy[36] in power capacity by 2020 and new energy efficiency savings. On the other hand, more conservative board members also passed through a fixed charge on the members and blocked rebate programs for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Other cooperatives across the nation continue to expand voting and open records policies. Georgia Watch, a consumer protection advocacy group, even made a helpful study and checklist[37] to determine if an electric cooperative is truly democratic.

Other cooperatives expanded voting and open records policies. At Kauai’s cooperative, in particular, the assurance for the democratic process has been extensive.

“We promote all candidates with campaign videos posted on our website,” board chairperson TenBruggencate says. “We publish an election guide. We have supported community candidate forums in some years. We have purchased advertising about the election. And we have made voting as easy as possible. We allow voting by phone, via internet, by mail and people can drop off ballots at our offices. The election is run and ballots are counted by an independent outside agency.”

Increased engagement at KIUC has helped soothe the strain of high electric bills, integrate record levels of rooftop solar, and bring innovative new projects in line with the members’ will, including a potential pumped hydro plant[38] and the nation’s first utility-scale solar-plus-storage plant[39].

“Electric cooperatives need to stay in touch with their members,” TenBruggencate says. “Higher voter turnout gives directors indication of which platforms are resonating with those members. It can be used to provide strategic direction for the cooperative. An engaged membership will recognize threats to the cooperative, and help bring resources to bear to solve problems.”

Back in Kentucky at Jackson Energy Cooperative, Randy Wilson’s landslide loss wasn’t for naught. Proxy votes were outlawed[40] shortly after the election. On-bill financing was instituted at the cooperative in 2010 as part of a pilot program with MACED[41]. In 2013, an incumbent board member was defeated by a newcomer.

Change can happen at electric cooperatives. Wilson knows this. He remembers from the day of his election attempt, when he informed an election official that people were cutting in line to use their proxy votes.

“He said, ‘I guarantee this will not happen again,’” says Wilson. “I was warmed by his respect. I kind of hugged him… I didn’t feel any competitiveness.”

For more information, see ILSR’s other posts on rural electric cooperatives:

This article originally posted at[45]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[46] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[47] update.

  1. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth:
  2. more of a festival:
  3. fired off cannons:
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  5. an on-bill financing program to help their low-income members save energy and money:
  6. more solar energy per capita than other utility in the nation:
  7. close to 40 percent of its energy from renewable resources:
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  30. defrauded his cooperative out of millions of dollars:
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  40. Proxy votes were outlawed:
  41. MACED:
  42. Did FERC Just Smash the Biggest Roadblock to Clean, Local Power for Electric Co-ops?:
  43. Why Aren’t Rural Electric Cooperatives Champions of Local Clean Power?:
  44. A $6 Billion Opportunity for the Rural Energy Economy:
  46. Twitter:
  47. Democratic Energy weekly:

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New Studies Reveal 5 Reasons Policymakers Should Prioritize Local Business in 2016

by Olivia LaVecchia | January 12, 2016 10:01 am

It’s the season of resolutions, and creating a better environment for locally owned businesses to succeed ought to be near the top of every elected official’s list of priorities.

That’s the suggestion of a raft of recent research from prominent economists, sociologists, and other researchers, which finds that small, local businesses are critical to overcoming many of our biggest challenges, from reducing economic inequality to building resilient communities.

Here’s a roundup of the new studies that give five compelling reasons for policymakers to focus on local business in 2016.


1. Fewer new businesses are starting, and that’s bad news for long-term job creation.

Employment is finally on the rebound, but high rates of underemployment and minimal wage growth suggest all is not well in the U.S. job market.  One disturbing trend may be to blame: the creation of new businesses has fallen sharply.

While startups accounted for 16 percent of all businesses in the late 1970s, that share has fallen by half, to 8 percent, explains a new brief[1] from the Kauffman Foundation. The brief also explains why that’s so troubling. The authors round up the recent research on firm age and job creation, and find that young firms are the major contributor of new jobs to the U.S. economy.

“New businesses account for nearly all net new job creation and almost 20 percent of gross job creation,” they write, adding, “companies less than one year old have created an average of 1.5 million jobs per year over the past three decades.”

While no one is certain what’s caused the drop in new businesses, the same policies and conditions that have made it harder for small, local businesses to succeed may well be impeding new entrepreneurs.

2. Places with a high density of locally owned businesses experience higher income and employment growth, and less poverty.

Counties in which locally owned businesses account for a larger share of economic activity are more prosperous, according to a new study[2] [PDF] by an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Using data on every U.S. county in the period between 2000 and 2008, the author, Anil Rupasingha, finds that local entrepreneurship has a positive effect on three critical indicators of economic performance: It increases county per capita income growth, increases county employment growth, and decreases county poverty rates. Rupasingha finds that this effect of local ownership is most pronounced when businesses are also small, defined as having fewer than 100 employees.

3. Small businesses make communities more resilient during hard times.


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Albuquerque Extends a Helping Hand to the Homeless

by David Morris | January 6, 2016 4:43 pm

While other cities try to regulate or ban panhandlers, Albuquerque, N.M., offers them an income and social services for the day. Twice a week, a city van rolls through downtown Albuquerque, N.M., stopping at popular panhandling locations, Governing[1] magazine reports. The driver asks panhandlers if they want a day job. Work pays $9 an hour, higher than the state’s $7.50 minimum wage. In May, the city started posting signs at intersections with a 311 phone number and a website. Panhandlers can call to connect with services. Motorists can visit the website [2] to donate to a local shelter, food bank or an employment fund to pay panhandlers’ wages.

At the end of the day the van drops the day laborers off at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, a nonprofit that connects people with housing, employment and mental health services.

Albuquerque calls its initiative A Better Way. I agree.



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Michigan Denies Free Speech to Public Officials

by David Morris | January 6, 2016 4:12 pm

On December 28th at 10:52PM, a few minutes before the New Year holiday recess, without public notice or hearings, the Michigan legislature, on a straight party line vote passed[1] a law prohibiting any public official from using “Public funds or resources for a communication” about a local ballot question within 60 days of the election.

The muzzling of the public sector does not extend to the private sector. Corporations and large political donors can still spend unlimited sums telling their side of the story. Indeed, adding insult to injury the same law allows campaigns to wait until after the elections to report their financial contributions.

So when Michigan’s citizens make up their minds how to vote on key ballot initiatives regarding issues like fracking or school bonding or municipal broadband their public officials will not be able to communicate with them.






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Congress Gets Renewable Tax Credit Extension Right

by John Farrell | January 5, 2016 3:09 pm

placeholder[1]In case you missed it over the holiday, Congress passed a new federal budget, notably extending tax credits for solar, wind, and other renewable energy technologies[2]. The extension differs from previous ones in two ways: it extends the credits for multiple years but also (as ILSR has been discussing[3] since[4] 2012) phases them out over time.

In other words, while the expiration of the solar tax credit wasn’t doomsday[5] (and even had a few silver linings[6]), Congress came up with a reasonable compromise to maintain incentive parity between clean energy and fossil fuels and provide the energy market with several years of predictable policy.

Extensions with a Phase Out

Here’s what it looks like. The production tax credit (a per kilowatt-hour incentive paid over 10 years) has been extended to projects that begin construction before 2020. However, for projects that begin construction after 2016, the incentive amount paid over the 10 years will be reduced. The following chart illustrates.


The solar tax credit was similarly extended, but with no decrease through 2019, and a phase out beginning in 2020. The language of the credit also shifted the deadline from “in service” to “commencing construction,” giving projects more time to access the full credit. The following chart illustrates the tax credit decrease after 2019, from 30% down to 10% (or 0% for solar projects on residential property owned by the resident).

federal solar tax credit phase out ILSR 2015[8]

For those who like combination charts, here’s both tax credits in one:

federal-wind-and-solar-tax-credit-phase-out-ILSR-2015 v3[9]

Still Not the Optimal Policy

The upside of the tax credit extension is obvious: continuing to make the cost renewable energy favorable relative to the cost of fossil fuel power generation. The downside is that the tax credit remains a lousy way to incentivize renewable energy[10] in an equitable manner, favoring Wall Street participation over Main Street. And promising tools[11] for reducing the cost of financing clean energy may have to wait while the tax credit crowd continues their dominance over clean energy financing. Finally, while the phase out is smart policy design, it also raises the specter of parity: will fossil fuel subsidies be similarly reduced as clean energy incentives are reduced?

At the end of the day, discounts for clean energy are a good thing, and this extension is worth cheering. But we hope that as the market matures, Congress will look for ways to give more ordinary Americans a way to buy into our clean energy future, whether they have tax liability or not.

This article originally posted at[12]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[13] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[14] update.

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Obama’s Two Mistakes That Lost the Country

by David Morris | December 29, 2015 10:44 am

Early this year President Obama spoke before the Cleveland Club. After the speech 7th grader Alura Winfrey inquired, “If you could go back to the first day of your first term what advice would you give yourself?” Obama reflected for a moment and then blithely explained he would have worked harder to sell his economic policies.

Ms. Winfrey asked the right question but might have elicited a more revealing response if the question was given more context and phrased more insistently. Something like this: “Given that under your watch your party lost the country, in retrospect what would you have done differently?”

The data clearly would have supported her. When Barack Obama took office Democrats controlled the White House, both houses of Congress and had outright control (both houses of the state legislature and the governorship) of 27 states. Republicans controlled 17. In 2010 Democrats lost the House and the number of Democrat to Republican-controlled states almost exactly reversed. In 2014 Republicans won the Senate and the score regarding state control now stands at an astonishing 32 to 7 in favor of Republicans. And Republicans could complete the federal trifecta in 2016.

Nothing Obama could have done would have avoided the tsunami of vicious racist and xenophobic hatred that washed over him and the country, aided and abetted by the savagely partisan and vitriolic FOX news. Nothing would have stopped obscenely rich and intensely self-interested individuals like the Koch brothers from pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns to discredit and defile the President and the government in general.

But Obama might well have stunted the emergence of a rightwing populist movement if he had pursued an aggressive populist strategy of his own, one that demonstrated government could effectively challenge giant corporations and unbridled private greed on behalf of small business and the average family.

Obama certainly had the opportunity. The economy was in free fall. Millions faced the prospect of losing their homes. Millions more were losing their jobs. After freeing itself of most government restrictions and oversight the financial sector had become dysfunctional. Even stalwart defenders of laissez faire capitalism were confessing the error of their deregulatory ways. “Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?” Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) asked[1] Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve in October 2008. “Yes, I’ve found a flaw,” Greenspan reluctantly conceded, and added, “I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”

The crisis in the health care sector was less visible but the sector’s inefficiencies and callousness were manifest. At a cost 30-100 percent higher than other nations were paying for universal health care, the America health care “system” left over 40 million uninsured. As many as 45,000[2] people died each year because they lacked health insurance. Medical expenses caused[3] 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies and had been rising by twice the inflation rate for several decades. Shrinking numbers of companies were offering employees adequate health care insurance and those that did were requiring more of the premium to be paid out of the workers’ paychecks even while insurance companies increased the level of deductibles.

To his credit Obama did try to make systemic changes in both the financial and health care sector. To his everlasting discredit he tried to make these changes without actually structurally changing the system. Instead of confronting power he bribed the powerful: $700 billion in direct support and trillions in low cost money for the banks, $500 billion for the health insurance companies. He enlisted the support of giant pharmaceutical companies, among the most profitable of all manufacturing firms, by refusing to cap drug prices. He enlisted the support of giant insurance companies by embracing an individual mandate he had opposed during the campaign, thus guaranteeing the companies millions of new mostly healthy younger customers, whose premiums would be heavily subsidized by the government. (more…)[4]

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Wilson Moves to Expand Greenlight Network to Neighboring Town

by ILSR | December 18, 2015 10:45 am

Thanks to a new interlocal agreement, the City of Wilson, North Carolina will soon expand[1] its Greenlight community broadand network[2] to the nearby Town of Pinetops. Officials expect to complete the expansion of the gigabit fiber network by April 2016. Pinetops, a town of 1,300, is less than 20 miles from Wilson, population 50,000.

We’re Waiting…

For Brenda Harrell, Pinetops Interim Town Manager, the agreement has been a long time coming after years of frustration over their limited broadband access options.

“Current providers haven’t made significant upgrades to our broadband service through the years,” “They haven’t found us worth the investment. Through this partnership with Greenlight and our neighbors in Wilson, we are able to meet a critical need for our residents.”

As far back as 2010, city leaders in Wilson were in negotiations with Pinetops officials on a proposal to expand the Greenlight network to reach Pinetops, a town of about 1,300. But those negotiations reached an impasse in 2011 when the State of North Carolina passed H129. Since then, officials in Wilson and in surrounding communities have been waiting for a time when Wilson could extend their the Greenlight network footprint.

The new agreement became possible in the wake of the FCC decision in February to overturn North Carolina’s anti-muni HB 129, allowing North Carolina communities to start considering the option to build their own broadband networks or expand on existing networks. While the state has appealed that decision in hopes of preserving the law, this agreement indicates Wilson officials are looking confidently ahead with the expectation that the state’s appeal will fail.

Looking Back, and to the Future

Last November, when the New York Times wrote about the fight[3] in communities around the nation for the right to build and expand community broadband networks, they talked to Gregory Bethea, the now retired town manager of Pinetops, North Carolina:

“If you want to have economic development in a town like this, you’ve got to have fiber,” Bethea told them.

And that’s what this agreement is about: giving Pinetops the local authority necessary to create their own economic opportunities.

In that article the Times also quoted Will Aycock, the General Manager of Wilson’s Greenlight network. At the time, Aycock was already looking beyond the state’s anti-muni law to future expansion:

“We would probably be building tomorrow if the law changed today,” Mr. Aycock said. “We’re not saying that we’re going to build out all of eastern Carolina or even all of our service territory tomorrow. But there are areas where we’d like to go now.”

With this new agreement in place, Aycock is now able to see those plans for expansion come to fruition. Upon reaching the agreement, he said:

“Our commitment to improving the delivery of City services through our smart grid initiatives has made broadband service to Pinetops possible, as the same fiber that supports the smart grid system will be leveraged to deliver next generation broadband.”

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[4]

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Watch: Don’t Take the Bait – Exelon’s Feeding Frenzy Won’t Stop with Pepco

by John Farrell | December 17, 2015 6:55 am

[1]Exelon, a monopoly electric utility and the nation’s largest nuclear power generator, made a $6.8 billion offer[2] to purchase Pepco, Washington D.C.’s electric utility in April of 2014. Since then, they have swarmed across Pepco’s service area, getting the approval of federal regulators, state utility commissions, and shareholders. Washington D.C.’s Public Service Commission has, however, halted Exelon in its tracks by deeming the merger “not in the public interest.”

Not to be thwarted, Exelon donated D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser with a $25 million “land use contribution” just a few days before she became an Exelon-Pepco merger champion. Share our video below and learn how to help stop the Exelon-Pepco merger.

Take action by:

  1. [Image]:
  2. $6.8 billion offer:
  3. Submitting comments:
  4. Facebook:
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  6. Crain’s Chicago Business:
  7. Midwest Energy News:
  8. our website:

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Watch: Can Energy Democracy Energize the “Good Life” in Nebraska?

by John Farrell | December 15, 2015 12:00 pm

placeholder[1]The following presentation was given by ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell, this year’s keynote speaker at the Sierra Club of Nebraska’s Annual Event on November 21st, 2015.  The presentation illustrates the march towards energy democracy by highlighting the spread of affordable distributed energy resources (such as wind and solar) and the intense pressure it puts on the 20th century business model for electric utilities.

John outlined how Nebraska is particularly well-suited to capitalize on added distributed solar capacity. With an active citizenry and publicly-owned utilities, Nebraska can ensure that their energy future is a clean one.

Click through the slides[2] or watch the video below.

This article originally posted at[3]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[4] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[5] update
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ILSR’s Distributed Solar Capacity Quarterly Update

by John Farrell | December 14, 2015 11:23 am

Renewable energy continues to dominate new power plant capacity and distributed generation has contributed an increasingly large share. We’ve been tracking this phenomenon since April of 2014, and, finally, the Energy Information Administration has recognized the prevalence of distributed solar and is going to report estimates of this added capacity[1] in their monthly updates. This is a big victory for tracking an individually-small but collectively-large power resource!

See previous updates: 2015 Q2[2], 2015 Q1[3], 2014 Q4[4], 2014 Q3[5], 2014 Q2[6]

Renewables Dominate New Annual Capacity

It’s been nearly 10 years since fossil fuel power plants represented more than 60% of new power plant capacity (2006), and it looks like three years running where distributed solar will represent at least 10% of new power capacity. Below is the annual data since 2003.

us new power plant capacity 2003-2015 annual ILSR[7]

Despite some fluctuation, when added capacity is broken down by quarter the growth of distributed solar has been consistently 10% or more of new power plant capacity. This has been aided by steeply falling prices and victories against utilities in the war on solar and other distributed power[8].
us new power plant capacity 2014-2015 quarterly ILSR[9]

The growth in distributed solar continues to expand the opportunity for electric customers to own a slice of their energy future[10], an economic windfall that could cumulatively shift as much as $48 billion[11] from electric utilities to their customers in the next 10 years.

This article originally posted at[12]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[13] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[14] update.

Photo credit: Andrew _ B via Flickr[15] (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)


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With New Wave of Mega-Mergers, the Big Aim to Get Bigger

by Olivia LaVecchia | November 23, 2015 10:43 am

In the middle of October, after months of courtship, Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller struck a $104.2 billion deal to merge. The global beer conglomerates behind Budweiser, Miller, and a stable of other beer brands will, if approved by regulators, become a single company with control over nearly 70 percent of the U.S. beer market, and 30 percent of the market across the globe.

Two weeks later, Walgreens and Rite Aid announced an agreement to combine into the country’s largest pharmacy company, on the heels of rival giant CVS buying Target’s pharmacies in June. Meanwhile, Staples is moving ahead with its $6.3 billion acquisition of Office Depot (which itself acquired OfficeMax in 2013), Bass Pro Shops is exploring a bid for the hunting and fishing chain Cabela’s, and last week, in a transaction that will create the country’s largest hotel chain, Marriott announced its acquisition of Starwood Hotels.

Even as craft breweries, farmers markets, and other small-scale, locally owned enterprises experience renewed vitality, at the other side of the economic spectrum, there’s more consolidation than ever. Mergers and acquisitions are expected to hit a record $4.58 trillion this year, the American Prospect recently reported[1]. And nearly a third of industries qualify as “highly concentrated” under current federal antitrust standards, found a recent Wall Street Journal analysis[2], up from about a quarter of industries a decade ago.

Much of this concentration is invisible to consumers. When AB InBev bought Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery for $38 million, for instance, it kept the well-loved craft brewer’s recipes and label, a pattern that it’s continued with its other craft acquisitions. Bar patrons still see a variety of beers on tap, and might not realize that their dollars now flow to AB InBev when they choose any number of them. Or take milk. Grocery shoppers choosing between 31 milk brands around the country rarely know that they’re all owned by one milk processor, Dean Foods, which controls 36 percent of the U.S. market for milk. (more…)[3]

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It’s not Doomsday, but Neither is Ending the Solar Tax Credit Good Policy

by John Farrell | November 19, 2015 2:47 pm

I took the “no” side in a point/counterpoint in the Wall Street Journal this week on the topic: Will Solar Energy Plummet if the Investment Tax Credit Fades Away[1]? It’s been a great conversation-starter, but also an opportunity to clarify ILSR’s position on the tax credit extension.

In short, while allowing the 30% tax credit to expire is not doomsday for solar, it’s bad policy. Congress should maintain support for a zero-fuel, zero-carbon energy resource that can decentralize the economic benefits of the power system.

The biggest problem with killing the tax credit is that, as a blunt instrument, the tax credit doesn’t equally affect all communities. A solar array in Missouri or Minnesota, for example, produces 30% less (or more) electricity per year than one in California or Arizona. While the cost of solar electricity will be at parity with (or better than) electricity prices in the Southwest and some Northeast states by 2017, it will take several more years to reach parity elsewhere. Letting the tax credit expire will mire these markets at a crucial opportunity to get them launched. The following screenshot from ILSR’s interactive solar parity map[2] shows the regional disparity in cost-competitive solar with no incentives in 2017.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 12.07.33 PM[3]

There’s also little point in reducing incentives for clean energy when we continue to subsidize dirty energy. In the last 70 years, the federal Department of Energy has spent twice as much money on fossil energy development as on renewables. And renewable energy has received only 14% of the tax break largess[4] showered on fossil fuels through the last century, and less than half on an annual basis. That’s despite the fact that while solar has no meaningful environmental or health impact from generating electricity, fossil fuel sources like coal continue to socialize their costs.

tax-breaks-630 cropped[5]

The high health cost of coal[6]

Credit: EDF

Finally, solar energy gives most electric customers, for the first time, the power to choose their energy source, often as an alternative to an increasingly expensive product from a monopoly power company. These companies would like nothing better than to cripple competition for their increasingly costly electricity.

While it’s true that there may be some silver lining to the solar tax credit expiration cloud[7], it would create more harm than good to give coal and natural gas (and electric monopolies) a free pass while roadblocking solar by cutting the Investment Tax Credit.

Opportunities to Improve

Policy-making is rarely perfect, however, so I can’t resist suggesting a few ways Congress could make the solar incentive better rather than killing it.

1. Make it a cash payment. Cities, counties, schools, and other non-profit organizations can’t use tax credits at all, and many Americans lack the tax liability to use it even as new financing tools are allowing more of them to go solar. The result is the rise of middlemen[8] that suck up much of the tax credit’s value.

2. Adjust it to the solar resource. Awarding the same $4,500 to identical 5-kilowatt solar arrays in Minnesota and California makes the former just competitive with retail electricity prices and the latter a windfall investment. In coastal Oregon, the same tax incentives may not be enough to provide any payback at all. Adapting the incentive to the solar resource would focus its power on the regions that need it most to get the solar market running.

3. Pay for performance. How do we make sure solar arrays are installed properly to maximize electricity production? If we pay for output, rather than simply discount the price up front.

4. Phase out, don’t do lights out. If we truly care about allowing the solar industry to adjust to an incentive-free market, then copy one of the best solar programs out there—the California Solar Initiative. Incentive payments were tied to existing market capacity, stepping down as the market grew. The federal incentive could also be phased out on a predetermined schedule, reducing by 5% per year until it zeroed out in 2022.


The solar tax credit was a blunt instrument for energizing the solar market and it worked. It may be less efficient and less nuanced than it could be, but killing the tax credit isn’t the solution. Instead, ending the credit amounts to unilateral disarmament of solar energy in the face of fossil fuel competition, at an unacceptable cost to the environment, consumer choice, and the coming of energy democracy.

For further reading:
The Federal Solar Tax Credit Extension: Can We Win if We Lose?[10]
Will Solar Energy Plummet if the Investment Tax Credit Fades Away[1]?

This article originally posted at[11]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[12] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[13] update.

Photo credit: 1upLego via Flickr[14] (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

  1. Will Solar Energy Plummet if the Investment Tax Credit Fades Away:
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Hillary Clinton: Stop State Laws that Restrict Local Choice

by ILSR | November 14, 2015 8:04 am

In a position piece[1] released in October, Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for local authority:

“Three-quarters of US households have at most one option for purchasing the Internet service families now depend on for shopping, streaming, and doing homework. When alternatives do emerge, however, as they have in places like Kansas City, prices go down and speeds go up……Closing these loopholes and protecting other standards of free and fair competition—like enforcing strong net neutrality rules and preempting state laws that unfairly protect incumbent businesses—will keep more money in consumers’ wallets, enable startups to challenge the status quo, and allow small businesses to thrive.”

The effort to stop state laws that limit local choice on broadband initiatives requires more political leaders to take a stand like the one Mrs. Clinton takes here against local monopoly power in favor of fair competition. Voters must become better informed about the insidious impact of centralized corporate power on their local freedom and demand that elected officials embrace policies to decentralize power.

As the Federal Communications Commission has made clear, broadband access is crucial to addressing quality of life issues including economic development[2], government performance[3], education[4], medical care[5], public safety[6], energy & environmental innovation[7], and civic engagement[8]. Regardless of party affiliation, candidate platforms must acknowledge that fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for all is one of the biggest challenges facing communities around the nation.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[9]

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The People United

by David Morris | November 9, 2015 8:10 am

New York makes it hard for citizens to influence policy.  They cannot put an issue on the state ballot no matter how many signatures they gather. And although the state Constitution has a home rule provision, cities and counties lack authority to undertake some of the most basic initiatives. Even mighty New York City, with over 8 million people, must go hat in hand to Albany to request permission to reduce city speed limits, install red light cameras, open their courts at night, or raise taxes other than those imposed on property.

Which makes it even more impressive that in the past few years initiatives from the bottom up have won two and a half significant victories in the face of vigorous opposition from giant corporations and ongoing hostility from state government. (I explain below why I list a partial victory.)

Minimum Wage

In 2012 New York’s minimum wage was identical to that of the federal government: $7.25 an hour.

That November workers at Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Burger King in Manhattan walked off the job to protest low pay and poor working conditions. With the assistance of the Service Employees International Union the Fight for $15 campaign was born and later spread across the nation.

In 2013 Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature did agree to slowly raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour by December 2015. But there they drew the line. In January 2014, in his first State of the City address New York Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the legislature to let cities set their own minimum wage. Cuomo quickly rejected the proposal. Doing so, he explained[1], could lead to a “chaotic situation.”

In June 2014 two events occurred that moved the Fight for $15 to another level. Seattle became the first city to embrace that wage and Cuomo did what the New York Times called[2] an “about-face on raising the minimum wage” by supporting a higher minimum wage for high cost cities like New York than lower cost cities in upstate New York.

The about-face, the Times noted, was an outcome of negotiations with New York’s Working Families Party (WFP).   A little background might be helpful here. New York is one of the very few states with a fusion system of voting. In the vast majority of states an independent party must not only win a certain number of votes to get a line on the ballot but must nominate its own candidate. That often leads them to play a spoiler role: taking votes from a candidate the party’s members would have liked to endorse. Fusion states like New York allow a new political party to endorse another party’s candidate. Which in turn allows third (and fourth and fifth) parties to quantifiably demonstrate their clout and that affords them real political leverage.

In 2014 Governor Andrew Cuomo was seeking a lopsided victory in the upcoming election to boost his presidential ambitions. To achieve this he needed the endorsement and votes of the WFP. But most WFP members opposed Cuomo’s indifference to the power of big money on politics and the worsening plight of workers. They were ready to nominate Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who in 2004 had been on-line coordinator of Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign.

On the last day of May, the day before the WFP convention convened Cuomo finally agreed to support WFP’s program and by a close vote he gained its endorsement. That agreement included supporting a higher statewide minimum wage for NYC of $13.13 an hour.

To no one’s surprise Cuomo did not fully live up to his promises but in January 2015 he did ask the legislature to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour in New York City and $10.50 an hour in the rest of the state. “We applaud Governor Cuomo’s proposed increase…”, Bill Lipton, the state director of the WFP said[3]. “But $11.50 is almost $2 less than what he endorsed last spring.” The legislature rejected Cuomo’s proposal.

In May Cuomo convened the New York Wage Board, an agency established in 1933 with the power to raise wages for specific groups of workers without legislative approval, and asked it to recommend a minimum wage for the state’s 180,000 fast food workers. In July, after hearing testimony from scores of workers the Board recommended a wage of $15 an hour.

In September Cuomo signed the recommendation into law and announced his support for a statewide $15 minimum wage. “Cuomo Pivots Again as He Seeks a $15 Minimum Wage,” the Times reported[4]. “Just six months ago he said $15 an hour, the minimum that fast-food workers demanded, was ‘too high’ and proposed $10.50 as an alternative.”


In the late 1990s horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracking opened up vast new energy sources from shale. One of the richest deposits is in the Marcellus Shale formation underlying all of West Virginia, much of Pennsylvania and southwestern New York.

Between 2005 and 2010 the country’s shale-gas industry grew[5] by 45 percent a year. As drilling sites proliferated people discovered their mostly rural communities were being turned into industrial free fire zones. In 2009, 13 water wells in Dimock, a Pennsylvania town near the New York border were contaminated with methane. One exploded. The incident received national publicity.

People living on the other side of the border took note and launched a huge, decentralized, region-wide teach-in. Discussion groups met in basements and living rooms and city halls. And as they learned, they expanded their educational network. In Dryden, Judy Pierpont recalls[6], “We started out with about eight of us but then friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends joined.” Kelly Branigan, an activist in Middlefield told[7] Ellen Cantarow, “In Middlefield, we’re nothing special. We’re just regular people who got together and learned, and reached in our pockets to go to work on this. It’s inspiring, it’s awesome and it’s America—its own little revolution.”

Within two years the little revolution had become a big revolution. To Jack Ossont, a former helicopter pilot fracking had become[8] “the tsunami issue of New York. It washes across the entire landscape.” Sandra Steingraber, a biologist at Ithaca College described[9] the movement as “the biggest since abolition and women’s rights in New York.”

To be successful activists had to overcome a key obstacle. A 1981 state law encouraged drilling and specifically declared, “The provisions of this article shall supersede all local laws or ordinances relating to the regulation of the oil, gas, and solution mining industries; but shall not supersede local government jurisdiction over local roads or the rights of local governments under the real property tax law.”

Enter Helen and David Slottje, two corporate lawyers who had moved from Boston to Ithaca a few years before. Helen remembers attending a forum in 2009 and being “horrified” by what she saw. She and her husband looked for a solution. “With a corporate law background, you don’t ever tell a client that they can’t do what they want to do. You find any number of ingenious ways to get it done,” she said[10].

And find a way they did. The Slottjes concluded that the state law preempted cities’ right to regulate gas and oil drilling but not their right to impose an outright ban. “While you couldn’t regulate the industry, you could just say no.” she said[10]. They later counseled more than 50 municipalities around the state pro bono. In 2014 Ms. Slottje received the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work.

In late 2009 the state Department of Conservation (DEC) issued fracking guidelines. After blistering public criticism they were withdrawn and Governor David Paterson imposed a moratorium pending DEC revisions. That moratorium gave activists some breathing room to organize.

Relying on the Slottjes’ activists began organizing to convince their local governments to ban fracking.  In Ulysses people went door to door, ultimately persuading 1500 of the town’s 3000 registered voters to sign petitions against fracking. Ulysses imposed a ban as did Dryden, a city 20 miles east of Ulysses, and Middlefield, 120 miles east of Ulysses.

Almost immediately both Middlefield and Dryden were sued by energy corporations that argued bans violated the law and their property rights.

In November 2011 scores of anti-fracking candidates displaced pro gas incumbents as town councilors town supervisors and county legislators. By January 2012 about 80 towns and counties had outlawed fracking.

At the end of 2011 the DEC issued new guidelines. By that time the anti-fracking movement was in full roar. In early 2012 a DEC spokesperson told[11] reporters she expected total comments “to be more than 40,000” No other issue had ever received even 1000 comments. The guidelines were again withdrawn. The moratorium continued.

In February activists received a huge boost when 2012 two court decisions validated the Slottje’s legal strategy by upholding Dryden and Middlefield’s bans.

Governor Andrew Cuomo took office in January 2011. He supported fracking but continued the moratorium pending still more new studies. In early 2013 he proposed a pilot program. A few dozen “test” wells would be drilled and large portions of the state would be off-limits. James Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York told[12] the Times, “We view it as a positive step.” In February 2013 Cuomo bowed to environmentalist pressure and the growing number of towns who were banning fracking and withdrew his proposal until the completion of another study.

The Washington Post summed[13] up Cuomo’s stance in June 2014, “Cuomo, widely believed to have national political ambitions, has avoided taking sides…”

In December 2014 New York’s Court of Appeals by a 5-2 vote upheld the lower court decisions regarding bans imposed by Dryden and Middlefield. By then over 170 communities had enacted bans.

Right after the court decision Cuomo finally imposed a permanent moratorium. The New York Times observed[14], “For Mr. Cuomo, the decision on fracking seemed likely to help repair his ties to his party’s left wing. It came after a surprisingly contentious re-election campaign in which Zephyr Teachout, a primary challenger who opposed fracking, won about a third of the vote.”

School Testing

The 2003 No Child Left Behind Law dramatically increased the emphasis on school testing but it was President Obama’s 2009 Race to the Top that made testing the centerpiece for education reform.

To be eligible for a share of the $4.35 billion in grants, states had to adopt rigorous Common Core standards for math and English and use the test results not only to evaluate students but teachers and schools. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia signed on even though only a score or so actually received any money.

Opposition to testing finally erupted in Seattle in January 2013 when teachers refused to administer standardized tests. With the introduction of state mandated Common Core tests opposition intensified. In April 2013 New York became the second state to administer tests aligned to Common Core State Standards (Kentucky was the first). In New York some 10,000 students refused to take the tests. Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University in New York City called[15] it, “the largest test revolt in modern American history,”

In June 2013 an estimated 10,000-plus educators and parents from all over New York converged at the state capitol in Albany to demonstrate their opposition to high stakes testing.

Opt outs worried state officials but the results of the tests shocked them. The proficiency rate for English dropped[16] from 55.1 percent to 31.1 percent from 2012 to 2013 while in math it plunged from 64.8 percent to 31 percent.

In 2014 state legislators partially responded to growing protests by prohibiting districts from making promotion or placement decisions “solely or primarily on student performance” on standardized test.

Nevertheless that year between 55,000 and 60,000 students opted out.

In late March 2015 Governor Cuomo and the legislature raised the stakes still higher by requiring that student test scores comprise 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations. Any teacher rated ineffective two years in a row could be fired. Depending on how long a school has been struggling, local districts would have one or two years to make “demonstrable improvement”. If a school failed to improve, it would be placed in receivership.

Carol Burris, New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year worried[17] about the impact of high stakes testing on students. “(W)hat will be the likely effects on students when their performance on tests determines half of their teacher’s evaluation?…every high-school teacher will be incentivized to push weaker students out of challenging classes like Advanced Algebra, Physics and Chemistry….Narrow teaching to the 3-8 Common Core tests and test prep will be further incentivized

In 2015 some 20 percent of all students, over 200,000 opted out. “The governor and legislature spoke on April 1 with their plan for our children’s education,” said[18] Lisa Rudley, a parent with children in the Ossining Union Free School District. “Parents are responding in force, ‘We do not consent!’

A group called The Concerned Teachers of New York State wrote an open letter to Governor Cuomo asserting, “We are hard-pressed to find any reference literature that supports staking such a large portion of a teacher’s overall evaluation rating on how his/her students perform on a standardized exam.” They noted that most studies found that teachers account for only 1-14 percent of the variability in test scores,

Cuomo still backed standardized tests but in the face of massive opposition he conceded[19], “We must have standards for New York’s students, but those standards will only work if people — especially parents — have faith in them and in their ability to educate our children. The current Common Core program does not do that. It must.” He convened a task force to review the state’s Common Core program.

The state also delayed by two years the date that the results of the Common Core exams will be counted in student assessments. It did not delay the implementation of test scores to evaluate teachers and schools. Nevertheless a majority of the more than 700 school districts in New York will probably be exempted[20] from implementing the new system at least until March 2016. In late October the Board of Regents convened a panel[21] to “consider improvements” to the teacher evaluation system.

All three examples prove that where there’s a will—and good steady organizing—there’s a way. Fast food workers took to the streets and, combined with strong support by organized labor and an increasingly influential independent political party, gained a victory. Opponents to fracking discovered a novel legal theory that allowed cities to ban fracking and then convinced hundreds of cities to do so.

Here’s where the half victory comes in. Whether ultra high stakes testing will continue is still undecided. But in the last two years grassroots opposition by parents and teachers and widespread civil disobedience by students clearly has changed the conversation and the dynamic.






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ILSR Sponsors the Third National Cultivating Community Composting Forum

by Brenda Platt | November 5, 2015 2:30 am

In collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[1], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance announces two events to be held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show[2] in Jacksonville, Florida:

Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop –
January 25, 2016


Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2016-
January 26, 2016

These events will bring together composters to network, share best practices, and build support for community scale composting systems and enterprises. The Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2016 is the third national forum sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle.


Scholarships are available to community composters!
Click here[3] to apply.
Application deadline: November 13th


Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop
1 to 4:30 pm, Monday, January 25th, 2016

In this half-day workshop for community composters, we will walk through practices that work. Topics include: creative financing, operator training, engaging community and recruiting participants, food scrap collection, equipment and small-scale systems, site planning, complying with regulations, outreach and communications, cooperative structures, technology platforms, marketing compost, measuring impact, managing the compost process, and overcoming roadblocks. We will address how to take your community-scale composting to the next level. Walk away knowing how to adapt the efforts and achievements of other programs for your community. Open to community-scale composters who are composting on-site at schools, community gardens and farms or otherwise keeping the process as local and small-scale as possible while engaging the community through participation and education. Pedal-powered collectors welcome.

Practitioners: A diverse team of community composters will lead this workshop. If you’re interested in participating, please email Joshua Etim at[4].
Facilitators/hosts: Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Nora Goldstein, BioCycle

Workshop Cost: USCC Member Price: $175 / Non-Member Price: $225

Register on the USCC web site, here[5].

Scholarships available to community composters! Apply here[6] by November 13th. After that, email Joshua Etim at[4].

Cultivating Community Composting Forum
2:30 to 6:00 pm, Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

This Forum will take place as a track on the first day of the US Composting Council’s International Conference and Trade Show (January 25th-28th). (more…)[7]

  1. BioCycle:
  2. USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show:
  3. here:
  5. here:
  6. here:
  7. (more…):

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Voters Quiet the Drums At the Polls in Colorado

by ILSR | November 3, 2015 4:53 pm

The “constant drumbeat” of complaints about poor connectivity pounding from Colorado communities ended with a climactic crash at the polls on Tuesday. Referenda in 43 communities[1] – 26 cities and towns; 17 counties – all passed overwhelmingly to reclaim local telecommunications authority.

Staggering Approval

The landslide victory was no surprise. Last year, nine communities asked voters the same issue of whether or not they wanted the ability to make local telecommunications decisions. That right was taken away 10 years ago by SB 152. Two other communities took up the question earlier this year with 75 percent[2] and 92 percent[3] of voters supporting local telecommunications authority.

A few larger communities, such as Boulder[4], Montrose[5], and Centennial[6], presented the issue to the voters and reclaimed local authority in prior years. This year, most of the voting took place in smaller, rural communities where incumbents have little incentive to invest in network upgrades.

This year, results were similar as the majority of voters supported local measures with over 70 percentage of ballots cast. In Durango, over 90 percent of voters chose to opt out of restrictive SB 152; Telluride voters affirmed their commitment to local authority when over 93 percent of votes supported measure 2B. Many communities showed support in the mid- and upper- 80th percentile.

Schools Win, Too

In addition to economic development, Colorado communities are looking to the future by planning for students and tomorrow’s workforce. Ballot questions in a number locations asked voters to allow school districts to have the option of investing in telecommunications if necessary. They don’t have faith that incumbents will keep up with their growing needs.

Colorado Mountain College[7], also unsure of the future, asked voters in six different communities for permission to provide their own Internet, if necessary. Voters in all locations said “yes.”


Out From Under The “Dark Cloud”

Virgil Turner, Director of Innovation from the City of Montrose, describes[8] what it is like when a community opts out of SB 152:

“We didn’t know exactly what we’d do,” Turner said. “But we no longer are under this dark cloud of not being able to be innovative.”

SB 152 first passed through the state legislature in 2005 after heavy lobbying from Comcast and CenturyLink. Legislators and lobbyists backing the law argued its intent was taxpayer protection but the past 10 years have proved otherwise. The real motivation behind the bill was to protect incumbent de facto monopolies and prevent potential competition by municipal networks.

The law hurts taxpayers by discouraging private investment. It prevents local governments from working with private sector ISP partners who may want to use publicly owned fiber infrastructure. It stalls economic development because employers can’t get the connectivity they need. It stifles growth in the small communities that need growth the most.

These communities have waited patiently for incumbents to invest in better infrastructure but communities will no longer wait and watch while places like Longmont[9], Rio Blanco[10], and Estes Park[11] leave them behind.

Until the State Legislature decides to strike SB 152 and the expensive hoops communities must jump through to opt out of it, places like Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs, and Pitkin County will be forced to spend precious public dollars on this type of referenda.

The Time to Act is Now

Ken Fellman, general counsel with the Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance told the Denver Post[12]:

It’s not that we want to compete with the private sector — it’s that the private sector isn’t providing the level of service the community needs.

Now that these communities have recovered the right to determine their broadband destiny, they have a choice. They can rest in the comfort of knowing they comply with the law or explore endless possibilities now open to them. They can stop pounding drums and start innovating.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[13]

  1. Referenda in 43 communities:
  2. 75 percent:
  3. 92 percent:
  4. Boulder:
  5. Montrose:
  6. Centennial:
  7. Colorado Mountain College:
  8. describes:
  9. Longmont:
  10. Rio Blanco:
  11. Estes Park:
  12. the Denver Post:
  13. here:

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A Plan B for Every Monopoly Electric Utility?

by John Farrell | October 28, 2015 12:29 pm

Electric companies seemingly face a business “death spiral[1]” because the 20th century rules for the electric grid make it a challenge to address stagnant energy demand and competition from energy-producing customers. The result is a utility-funded war on solar and other distributed power[2], and retrenchment on last century’s business model as many utilities try to gain certainty by taxing solar[3] or requiring customers to pay more regardless of how much energy they use[4]. But one investor-owned utility—Green Mountain Power[5]—is bucking the trend and embracing a 21st century electricity system that’s driven from the ground-up by distributed renewable energy, storage, and smart grids.

A Different History

Green Mountain Power has distinguished itself from its peers for nearly a decade. In 2008, this utility serving 75% of Vermont’s electric customers testified to the state’s Public Service Board that it wanted to expand net metering[6] by increasing project sizes, the capacity cap on projects, and pay a premium of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour—in addition to the retail energy rate—to solar producers because of the value of offsetting dirty, peak energy production.

In 2011, the utility completed its campaign to install 10,000 solar panels in 1,000 days[7], beating its goal by installing 26,000 panels.

In 2013, the utility was the first in the nation to rent cold-climate heat pumps[8] to assist with residential heating and cooling.

In 2014, unlike many of its utility peers, Green Mountain Power supported[9] quadrupling the capacity cap on net metering[10] from 4% to 15%. The law also allowed projects under 15 kilowatt to be registered within 10 business days. The utility followed up on its support for expanding solar by breaking ground on a microgrid for Rutland, VT[11], combining 2.5 megawatts of solar with 4 megawatts of battery storage. The project provides resilient power in the event of a larger grid outage, and contributes to the utility’s goal of making Rutland the “solar capital of New England.”

Also in 2014, the utility announced a partnership with NRG to “remake the Vermont grid[12]” by offering “community solar, energy management systems, micropower, personal power, electric vehicle charging and similar distributed energy offerings.” More broadly, the partnership is intended to “transform the distribution grid ‘to a market-based platform designed to create efficiencies and distributed energy solutions.'”

In 2015, the utility launched a program for customers to “share solar[13],” allowing customers with sunny roofs to host solar arrays at no cost. The customer would receive a portion of the energy, reducing their energy costs, and the remaining production would be available for purchase by other electric customers.

A Different Orientation

While Vermont’s largest utility has sided with its customers, other utilities continue to battle against them, in fights covering more than two-thirds of U.S. states (Vermont is notably absent from the list).distributed-generation-under-fire-map-ILSR-2015-1028[14]

The difference?

Green Mountain Power is the only electric utility in America organized as a Benefit (or “B”) Corporation[15]. B Corps are for-profit companies, but include “positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit[16]” as their legally defined goals. It’s like the “fair trade” label for coffee or the LEED standard for buildings, a way to differentiate between companies whose only goal is profit maximization and those that want the legal flexibility to think more broadly.

The utility has a vision for using the energy system[17] to the greater benefit of all its customers:

GMP is at the forefront of a new energy system for Vermont that can improve lives, reduce costs, and be produced in a more environmentally and economically sustainable way. They are leading the transition from the traditional grid of the past, to one that is more resilient and reliable, and that uses a series of microgrids through renewable and clean energy generation and innovative energy storage solutions. This work will empower their customers like never before and increase their comfort in all Vermont seasons while fostering healthier, stronger communities.

Why Not All Monopoly Utilities?

The fundamental rule of the 20th electric utility system is granting government-sanctioned monopolies to most for-profit utility companies, to avoid costly duplication of electrical infrastructure and capture economies of scale for power generation. But the grid is built, and the scale economies for fossil fuels are undermined by the socialized health and environmental costs as well as competition from cost-effective distributed renewable power. The utility’s monopoly is increasingly un-natural[18].

One solution is to follow New York into the brave new world of regulated de-monopoly[19], changing the distribution system from just one piece of a utility behemoth into an open, competitive platform for delivering energy services. It’s removing the conflict of interest for utilities that own power plants that compete with customer-driven solar, energy storage, and energy management.

But an alternative to cracking open archaic monopolies would be to incorporate the public benefit into their corporate charter.*  Instead of requiring utility commissioners and legislators to endlessly battle well-funded utility companies over incremental shifts toward a cleaner and more equitable energy system, bake it into their legal structure. Make every utility monopoly company a B corporation.

Most utility companies aren’t prepared to embrace the transformative opportunity to democratize the electricity system, whether due to inertia, conservative culture, or perceived conflicts with their profit-maximizing mission. They can’t envision a system in which the customer is king, and not the utility. And the tools we have to move utilities require enormous time, energy, and money to overcome the power of their economic and political incumbency.

Maybe it’s time for Plan B.

This article originally posted at[20]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[21] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[22] update.

Photo credit: Martin Ringlein via Flickr[23] (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)

*Note: this wouldn’t change anything for government-owned municipal utilities or rural electric cooperatives, that operate under the auspice of democratic control.

  1. death spiral:
  2. utility-funded war on solar and other distributed power:
  3. taxing solar:
  4. requiring customers to pay more regardless of how much energy they use:
  5. Green Mountain Power:
  6. it wanted to expand net metering:
  7. 10,000 solar panels in 1,000 days:
  8. rent cold-climate heat pumps:
  9. supported:
  10. quadrupling the capacity cap on net metering:
  11. microgrid for Rutland, VT:
  12. remake the Vermont grid:
  13. share solar:
  14. [Image]:
  15. Benefit (or “B”) Corporation:
  16. positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit:
  17. a vision for using the energy system:
  18. utility’s monopoly is increasingly un-natural:
  19. the brave new world of regulated de-monopoly:
  21. Twitter:
  22. Democratic Energy weekly:
  23. via Flickr:

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Top 10 Reasons to Support Community Power

by John Farrell | October 26, 2015 9:00 am


Building local equity is the key to campaigns for 100% renewable energy, giving everyone a chance to own a piece of their energy future.

What does control of our electric grid look like? Check out these images to help illustrate the importance of clean, local energy.

Click through to discover the top 10 reasons to support Community Solar:

10. Savings

Every 1-kilowatt share of a community solar project can cut your electricity bill by 13%.

9. Clean Energy

With a 25-year warranty, solar means you get free, clean energy from the sun for decades.

8. Access to All

Over half of U.S. households don’t have a sunny rooftop, but everyone can be part of community solar.

7. Ownership

Community solar means owning a share of your energy future, and it might come from a library or school rooftop near you!

6. Local Dollars

Spending a dollar on community solar electricity means you don’t pay for mines or fracking or pollution.

5. Jobs

Every megawatt of solar creates up to 20 jobs in the local economy.

4. Control

Your electric utility can’t raise rates on energy that you own.

3. Competition

Most utilities are monopolies, but community solar gives you a choice.

2. Equity

Community solar means you can own solar without being rich or having a good credit score.

1. Community Power

Owning a share of community solar is the first step toward taking charge of your – and your community’s – energy future.

Give your support today to celebrate 10 reasons for community solar[2] and ILSR’s work to expand community power!

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New Analysis: Amazon Warehouses Impose Hidden Costs on Communities

by Stacy Mitchell | October 22, 2015 9:41 am

Amazon is on a building spree, and many local officials are eager to bring one of its giant fulfillment centers to their own backyard.  But a new analysis from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) indicates that communities are losing more than they gain in these projects.

Contact: Stacy Mitchell, 207-232-3681
Co-Director, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)

Cities are so eager to lure Amazon that many have resorted to offering the company lavish tax breaks and other public assistance.  Between 2012 and 2014, public records show, Amazon picked up $431 million in local tax incentives to finance its warehouse expansion.

Yet, Amazon fulfillment centers impose so many hidden costs on local economies, ILSR contends, that cities ought to reconsider welcoming them at all, much less greasing the way with public funds.

According to 5 Things Local Officials Need to Know Before Welcoming an Amazon Warehouse[1], a factsheet released today by ILSR:

“Community leaders have barely begun to grapple with the implications of Amazon’s growth,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher and co-director at ILSR.  “Amazon is upending the age-old relationship between commerce and place, and with this shift comes significant costs for local economies.  Our analysis puts hard numbers to some of these costs.  It should spur cities that are courting Amazon warehouses to reconsider.”
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 41-year-old nonprofit research and educational organization based in Minneapolis, MN, Portland, ME, and Washington, DC. ILSR’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models, and timely research to support strong communities and local economies.More at[2]

  1. 5 Things Local Officials Need to Know Before Welcoming an Amazon Warehouse:

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5 Things Local Officials Need to Know About Amazon

by Stacy Mitchell | October 22, 2015 8:01 am

placeholderImage: Amazon Factsheet[1]Amazon is on a building spree, and many local officials are eager to bring one of its giant fulfillment centers to their own backyard. They are so eager, in fact, that some have resorted to offering the company lavish tax breaks and other public assistance. Between 2012 and 2014, Amazon picked up $431 million in local tax incentives to finance its warehouse expansion.

Yet, as our analysis shows, Amazon fulfillment centers impose so many hidden costs on local economies that cities ought to reconsider welcoming them at all, much less greasing the way with public funds.

Download the Factsheet[2]

Here are five things local officials need to know before welcoming an Amazon warehouse:

  1. Amazon Has a Track Record of Dodging Taxes and Demanding Subsidies It Doesnt Need

Amazon is a master at getting money from taxpayers. From 2012 to 2014, it extracted $431 million in tax incentives and other subsidies from local and state governments.[i][3] Amazon hardly needs taxpayers to finance its expansion. In 2014, it invested over $5 billion in acquisitions and capital expenditures, and reported an additional $2 billion in free cash flow.[ii][4]

As much as Amazon asks from taxpayers, it also has a long history of sidestepping its own tax obligations. For 20 years, the company has worked hard[iii][5] to avoid collecting sales tax, even going so far as to conceal its physical presence in some states.[iv][6] Today, Amazon still does not collect sales taxes in 19 states.[v][7]

  1. Amazon Warehouses Place a Heavy Burden on Services

Amazon is infrastructure-intensive. It makes heavy use of the roads surrounding its warehouses, causing traffic, safety, and pavement wear impacts. Instead of offsetting these costs, Amazon expects local governments to pick up the tab and often even asks them to extend and upgrade services.

In Shakopee, Minn., for instance, the company convinced the city to spend about $8 million on road improvements and other infrastructure fixes around the site of a planned warehouse.[vi][8]

  1. Amazon Wont Bring Many Jobs

In fact, Amazon actually destroys more jobs than it creates. While local brick-and-mortar retailers employ 47 people for every $10 million in sales, Amazon employs just 19 people per $10 million in revenue.[vii][9] This means that as Amazon grows and crowds out other businesses, the result is a net decrease in jobs.

Over time, the number of jobs that Amazon creates will drop even lower. The company’s new generation of warehouses is equipped with robots that do much of the sorting, stacking, and moving of products. “It’s obvious that humans are going to lose these jobs,” an analyst recently told the Los Angeles Times.[viii][10] (more…)[11]

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Sweden Experiments With A 6-Hour Work Day

by David Morris | October 21, 2015 1:42 pm

Swedish experiments with a 6-hour day find it costs a little more but workers are less stressed, more energetic, happier and more productive. Plus it is a terrific job generator for the nation as a whole. One’s reaction to these findings depends on one’s ideology. When the left governs cities the experiments blossom but when penny-wise, pound-foolish Conservatives are in power the experiments end.@TheGuardian

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Distributed Renewable Energy Under Fire

by John Farrell | October 21, 2015 11:45 am

placeholderThis subject has been updated, please read our newest piece: Distributed Generation (Still) Under Fire[1], published May 2016.

placeholder[2]Need evidence that utilities are fighting back against their customer’s desire to generate their own power? This map shows where policies like net metering are undermining the ability of utility customers to exercise their desire for self-reliance.

I developed this map as a side project while I was working on explaining the value of solar[3] and its potential role in addressing conflicts between utilities and customers over distributed renewable energy like solar. I’ve received several updates since it was originally published[4].


Sources and links available from this Google spreadsheet[6].

For some context on the contention about the costs and benefits of distributed renewable energy, see this compilation report from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

This article originally posted at[7]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[8] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[9] update.

  1. Distributed Generation (Still) Under Fire:
  2. [Image]:
  3. explaining the value of solar:
  4. originally published:
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States Shower Big Companies with Economic Development Incentives, at Small Businesses’ Expense

by Olivia LaVecchia | October 21, 2015 11:18 am

Over the last decade, Kerry Olvera and her co-owners have expanded Supermercado Mexico near Grand Rapids, Mich., to three grocery stores and a commercial bakery. They’ve quadrupled the staff from 12 full-time equivalent employees to 50.

To finance all of this growth, they relied entirely on their own scraped-together capital and hard-won bank loans.

“We’re 100 percent invested in this, our houses, everything,” says Olvera.

While local entrepreneurs like Olvera finance their own growth, they’re largely cut off from a plentiful stream of public capital available to their larger competitors, according to a study released Tuesday by the research group Good Jobs First. The group looked at state economic development programs that purport to be open to businesses of any size, and found that they overwhelmingly favor large companies.

The study, titled Shortchanging Small Business[1], analyzes 4,200 economic development incentives awarded through programs in 14 states, and finds that 90 percent of a $3.2 billion total pot went to large firms, defined as those with 100 or more employees or 10 or more locations. In some states, that figure climbed as high as 96 percent.

“It’s really surprising, and it’s frustrating, and it’s angering,” says Olvera of the study’s findings. “We’re really working hard to make ends meet.”


  1. Shortchanging Small Business:
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Mississippi Schools Would Save $107 Million By Using Public Employees, Not Private Contractors

by David Morris | October 20, 2015 2:41 pm

A recent report[1] by the Mississippi State Auditor finds that K-12 schools would have an additional $107 million to spend on classrooms if they stopped contracting out services and instead provided them in-house with their own public employees.

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Cities Taking Back Their Water Systems

by David Morris | October 20, 2015 2:33 pm

Wall Street continues to promote the privatization of municipal water systems here and abroad.  But cities are fighting back. In the past 15 years 180 cities in 35 countries have returned control of their water supply to municipalities. The remunicipalization[1] movement is alive and well.@truthout


  1. remunicipalization:

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EPB Turns Up The Speed To 10 Gigs

by ILSR | October 15, 2015 2:22 pm

Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics now offers 10 gigabit Internet access to all households and businesses in its service area. The ultra-fast service is available for $299 per month with free installation, no contracts, and no cancellation fees, announced community leaders at a press conference on October 15th.

In addition to 10 gig service, EPB is also offering “Professional” products available in 3 gig, 5 gig, and 10 gig for large businesses. Smaller businesses have the option of choosing 5 gig or 10 gig Internet products. According to the press release, prices on all the new products vary.

Since the network was launched in 2010, Chattanooga has transformed from one of the “dirtiest cities in America” to a haven for the entrepreneurial culture[1]. Chattanooga experienced explosive economic development leading to thousands of new jobs, substantial public savings[2] due to the network’s smart grid capabilities, and new educational opportunities[3] for students and workforce development.

From the press release:

Chattanooga’s fiber optic network has produced tangible results. A study recently released by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Finance professor Bento Lobo shows “the Gig Network” helped the Chattanooga area generate at least 2,800 new jobs and at least $865.3 million in economic and social benefits. The study also found the EPB smart grid, which is the cornerstone application of the utility’s community-wide fiber optic network, has allowed customers to avoid an estimated 124.7 million minutes of electric service interruptions by automatically re-routing power (often in less than a second) to prevent an outage or dramatically reduce outage durations.[read the study here[4]]

The city created a standard other communities strive to achieve; we often see communities aiming for the $70 gigabit price point offered by EPB. As a leader for other municipalities, it is only fitting that Chattanooga has taken this next step forward.

Also from the press release:

“Chattanooga’s 10 Gig fiber optic network is a world-class platform for innovation,” [Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB] said. “In recent years, the need for faster Internet speeds has increased rapidly. Chattanooga is the perfect place for companies to enhance their productivity today and test the applications everyone in the country will want tomorrow.”

Read more about Chattanooga’s journey to become a gigabit community in our 2012 report, Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks[5].

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[6]

  1. haven for the entrepreneurial culture:
  2. substantial public savings:
  3. new educational opportunities:
  4. read the study here:
  5. Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks:
  6. here:

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The Government Is About To Give Prisoners a Fair Deal When They Call Home

by David Morris | October 10, 2015 3:45 pm

Most jail and prisons phones are owned by profit making corporations that charge unconscionable[1] (dare I say criminal) rates as high as $1 per minute for phone calls.  The federal government is about to change the rules. Later in October the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to slash[2] the average telephone rate by as much as 90 percent. And the businesses will still make a profit!

  1. unconscionable:
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Norway Owns Its Oil. Canada Doesn’t. And That Has Made All The Difference

by David Morris | October 9, 2015 8:58 am

Canada and Norway produce[1] about the same amount of oil and gas. Through a combination of public ownership and taxes Norway captures about 85 percent of the net revenue from sales. As a result its 25 year old Sovereign Fund has $1.1 trillion in assets that has been used to make Norway one of the most prosperous and least unequal countries on earth. Canada’s oil and gas system is 100 percent privately owned. Alberta, the heartland of Canadian oil, and Canada only captures about 20 percent of the revenue from sales.  As a result their Heritage Savings Fund, created 14 years before Norway’s, boasts just $17 billion in assets.

  1. produce:

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Four Strategies For Reducing Ridiculously Inflated Drug Prices

by David Morris | October 9, 2015 8:42 am

American consumers pay hundreds of billion of dollars in inflated pharmaceutical prices because drug companies are legal monopolies, a result of current patent laws. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research evaluates[1] 4 separate strategies for slashing the cost of drugs and seeing drugs as a common good.

  1. evaluates:

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A Tool to Find Banks that Invest in the Local Economy

by Olivia LaVecchia | October 8, 2015 3:14 pm

The reasons to choose a community bank or credit union[1] range from getting the same services at a lower cost to supporting productive investment instead of speculative trading. But while it’s one thing to think about the qualities that are important in our banks, it’s another to find particular local banks that are enacting them.

A new tool, called Bank Local[2], aims to make that process easier.

Bank Local maps every banking institution in the U.S., and uses data from three federal agencies, plus its own algorithm, to assign them a Local Impact Rating. Users can type their address into a bar on the site’s homepage, and find a map and list of how nearby financial institutions compare.

The project was created by Bob Marino and Nick Plante, who initially schemed it up as a tool for their own area. Both are board members of Seacoast Local[3], a local economies non-profit that works in eastern New Hampshire and southern Maine. They wanted to come up with something to help people move their money to a local bank or credit union, and take what they describe in an early post on their website as a “small, pragmatic action” against “the problem of Bigness in banking.”

“We thought that one of the venues for change would be to put that information out there for consumers who care about these issues,” Marino says.

Working with experts, including Stacy Mitchell here at ILSR and the economist Olga Bruslavski with the National Credit Union Administration, they came up with criteria to quantify a bank’s local impact. They decided on seven[4]: Small business lending, location of headquarters, branch concentration, bank ownership, bank size, small farm lending, and speculative trading.

Take small business lending, the factor that Bank Local weighs most heavily. Small businesses, which create the majority of new jobs, depend heavily on small, local banks for financing. In 2014, even though community-based financial institutions controlled just 24 percent of all banking assets, they made 60 percent of all[5] small business loans. As the banking sector has become increasingly concentrated[6], small businesses have had a harder time[7] accessing the capital that they need to grow.

In Bank Local’s algorithm, if a bank dedicates 20 percent or more of its total assets to small business lending, it earns three points toward its total score and is marked as “outstanding” in that category. The lowest tier is for banks that devote less than 5 percent of their total assets, which receive a score of zero and a rank of “insignificant.” In Oakland, Calif., for instance, Mission National Bank uses 24 percent of its assets for lending to small businesses, and none for speculative trading, which helps it earn a high overall score for local impact. Citibank, meanwhile, deploys just 1 percent of its assets for small business loans and 9 percent for speculative lending.

Once Marino and Plante had come up with the criteria and the algorithm for scoring, they were able to expand their new tool to cover the rest of the country. They pulled all of the data they needed, and then used a service that geolocated every financial institution. (more…)[8]

  1. choose a community bank or credit union:
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Op-Ed: Community Broadband Networks Drive NC Economy

by Christopher | October 1, 2015 10:27 am

logo-roanoke-daily-herald[1]The Roanoke Daily Herald published this op-ed about local government action for broadband networks on September 25, 2015. We were responding to an earlier Op-Ed, available here[2]. Christopher Mitchell wrote the following op-ed.

It is stunning any legislator can look at the constituents they serve in rural North Carolina and think, “‘These people don’t need the same high quality Internet access now being delivered in Charlotte and the Triangle. They should be happy with whatever cable and telephone companies offer.”

But that’s just what I think Representatives Jason Saine and Michael Wray are implying in their recent opinion piece on community broadband networks.

By supporting U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ legislation to remove local authority for building broadband networks, the two lawmakers are siding with big cable and telephone firms over their own communities.

It is hardly a secret that Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink and others are investing too little in rural communities. The majority of residents and local businesses in North Carolina have no real choice today and can expect their bills to go up tomorrow.

Areas served by coops or locally-rooted companies are more likely to see upgrades because they are accountable to the community in ways that national firms are not. Local firms are more willing to invest in better networks and keep prices low because they live in the community.

North Carolina communities stuck with no broadband or slow DSL and cable at best are disadvantaged in economic development and property values. This is why hundreds of local governments have already invested in fiber optic networks — with remarkable success.

Wilson is one example, where the city built the first gigabit fiber optic network in the state. The network has paid all its bills on time and the largest employers in the area all subscribe to it. One local business, which was a vocal opponent of the idea at first, now credits the municipal fiber network with helping her business to expand and reach new clients. The General Manager of Central Computer, Tina Mooring, argues that restrictions on municipal networks hurt the private sector, noting that her clients in areas near Wilson strongly desire access to the high capacity services they cannot get from cable and DSL networks.

Just across the Virginia state line is another approach, where Danville has built a fiber network that is available to private ISPs to offer services. The network has led to new investment and high tech jobs as well as helping existing businesses to expand. Not only have they paid all their bills on time, they make enough net income to contribute $300,000 per year to the general fund.

The fastest citywide network in the nation, offering 10 Gbps was just announced in Salisbury, north of Charlotte. Again, city owned.

This strategy is rarely a partisan issue at the local level. Some 75 percent of the communities that have a citywide municipal network voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. From Maine to Louisiana to California, municipal broadband is a pragmatic question of whether it will improve quality of life and spur economic development.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis’ legislation to challenge the FCC is not a win for local autonomy. It is an example of distant officials micro-managing local issues.

It is unfathomable the state Attorney General, whose job it is to protect residents and local businesses, has sided with Time Warner Cable and AT&T rather than champion the cause of fast and affordable Internet access for North Carolinians. The state is literally using taxpayer dollars to protect the monopolies of big telecom firms that prevent communities from having a real choice in providers. This is yet another decision that should be made locally, not in Raleigh or D.C.

Christopher Mitchell is the director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis and is @communitynets on Twitter. He writes regularly on


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We Now Have A Private Judicial System Just for Corporations

by David Morris | September 28, 2015 5:32 pm

In the last 20 years the Supreme Court has created a parallel judicial system to resolve disputes involving corporations that is effectively run by the very corporations whose behavior is under investigation.

Here is how that judicial coup against an independent judiciary occurred.

In 1925 Congress passed a simple 4-page law, the Federal Arbitration Act[1] (FAA). Businesses that preferred a simpler and faster arbitration process in business-to-business transactions to costly and protracted court battles urged Congress to act because federal courts often refused to enforce many arbitration clauses.

A one court explained[2], “… nothing would be easier than for the more astute party to oust the courts of their jurisdiction. By first making the contract and then declaring who should construe it, the strong could oppress the weak, and in effect so nullify the law as to secure enforcement of contracts usurious, illegal, immoral, and contrary to public policy.”

The FAA was a legislative attempt to satisfy businesses’ desire for speedy and affordable dispute resolution while also satisfying the judges’ desire for justice.

The result was a law very narrowly focused on commercial contracts voluntarily entered into by businesses of relatively equal strength. In a House floor debate Representative George Scott Graham (R-PA) summed[3] up his colleagues’ intent, “[t]his bill simply provides for one thing, and that is to give an opportunity to enforce an agreement in commercial contracts and admiralty contracts—an agreement to arbitrate, when voluntarily placed in the document by the parties to it.”

For the next 60 years the law worked as intended. Courts consistently upheld arbitration awards between businesses but also consistently held that the FAA was procedural not substantive. Arbitration did not trump federal and state laws. The FAA did not apply to employment or consumer contracts.

A New Conservative Supreme Court Steps In

And then the composition of the Supreme Court dramatically changed. Richard Nixon came to office declaring[4] his intention “to nominate to the Supreme Court individuals who shared my judicial philosophy, which is basically a conservative philosophy” and during his first term promptly put four Justices on the Court. In his two terms Ronald Reagan also put four Justices on the Court.

In 1984 the Supreme Court flexed its new conservative muscles. In a case[5] involving the right of Southland’s 7-11 franchisees to sue under the California Franchise Law the Court reinterpreted the 1925 law as a Congressional declaration of a “national policy favoring arbitration”. It further ruled that this national policy applied not only to federal courts but to state courts and was substantive as well as procedural. No matter how one-sided the balance of bargaining power once a business signed a contract with an arbitration clause it was forced to abide by the decision of arbiters even if they ignored relevant state and federal laws and even if the decision-making processed was biased against the complainant.

Dissenting Justices vainly pleaded with their colleagues not to ignore the clear will of Congress and derail more than a half-century of uncontroversial implementation of the FAA. As Sandra Day O’Connor observed, “One rarely finds a legislative history as unambiguous as the FAA’s.”

In 2001 the Court, by a 5-4 vote, extended[6] the FAA to cover employment contracts. The four dissenters beseeched their brethren not only to look at the original intent of the law but to its actual text. Section 1 of the law states, “nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The clause was inserted at the bequest of the International Seamen’s Union and the more broadly based American Federation of Labor. “History amply supports the proposition that it was an uncontroversial provision that merely confirmed the fact that no one interested in the enactment of the FAA ever intended or expected (it) would apply to employment contracts,” noted the dissenters. (more…)[7]

  1. Federal Arbitration Act:
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Call to Action! Sign People’s Brief Supporting Network Neutrality

by ILSR | September 21, 2015 9:27 am

To try to stop the Network Neutrality rules established earlier this year, big cable has filed suit against the FCC in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Advocates have drafted a brief to let the court know that the people are not willing to give up Network Neutrality. In a matter of days, that brief will be filed with the court.

We urge you to read the brief[1] and sign on to show your support[2]. Then spread the word on social media, email, and word of mouth, so we can present the brief with as many signatures as possible.

From the Net Neutrality Brief website:

Without Net Neutrality, the big cable companies would control the Internet, and make it harder for us to access information that doesn’t align with what’s best for the companies’ bottom lines or that disagrees with their political leanings. If Net Neutrality weren’t the norm, we might even have been blocked from engaging in the online activism that helped secure the Net Neutrality rules that we’re now working to defend!

Read the brief. Sign the brief. Spread the word.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[3]

  1. read the brief:
  2. sign on to show your support:
  3. here:

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Paul Connett’s Zero Waste and Anti Incineration Presentation

by Neil Seldman | September 16, 2015 11:53 am

Paul Connett is a zero waste super star.  A trained chemist, Paul threw himself into the anti garbage incineration movement while teaching as a chemistry professor at Lawrence University in Canton, NY.  Now retired he travels constantly to garbage trouble spots, teaching, inspiring, singing and entertaining audiences around the globe.

He is author of, “The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community At A Time,” produced the video, “Pieces of Zero,” and is featured in the film “Trashed” by Jeremy Irons. Connett takes no fees for his work. ILSR and Dr. Connett have been working partners for the past 25 years.

Watch and enjoy Paul’s presentation below and fight against garbage incineration and for zero waste, recycling and economic development strategies in your community.


Dr. Paul Connett speaks against proposed Crowsnest/Pincher Creek landfill incinerator

See comments and slides here.[1]

  1. See comments and slides here.:

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Salisbury Fibrant Launches 10 Gbps Citywide – Community Broadband Bits Podcast 168

by ILSR | September 15, 2015 11:38 am

Salisbury’s municipal FTTH network, Fibrant[1] is the first citywide 10 Gbps network in the nation. Located in North Carolina, Salisbury is also one of very few municipal citywide fiber networks that was built by a city without a municipal electric plant. This week, Salisbury Director of Broadband and Infrastructure, Kent Winrich, joins us for Episode 168 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We talk about why Salisbury opted to build its own fiber network and then supercharge it with enough upgrades to be able to offer 10 Gbps capacity throughout the community. We discuss economic development opportunities and how those outside of Salisbury would like to see it expand.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show – please e-mail us[2] or leave a comment below.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes[3] or via the tool of your choice using this feed[4].

Listen to other episodes here[5] or view all episodes in our index[6]. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here[7].

Thanks to bkfm-b-side[8] for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is “Raise Your Hands.”

audio/mpeg iconCommunity Broadband Bits Episode 168 – Kent Winrich, Director of Broadband and Infrastructure, Salisbury, North Carolina[9]

This article is apart of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[10]

  1. municipal FTTH network, Fibrant:
  2. e-mail us:
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  5. other episodes here:
  6. view all episodes in our index:
  7. download this Mp3 file directly from here:
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  9. Community Broadband Bits Episode 168 – Kent Winrich, Director of Broadband and Infrastructure, Salisbury, North Carolina:
  10. here:

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How One State Escaped Wall Street’s Rule and Created a Banking System That’s 83% Locally Owned

by Stacy Mitchell | September 1, 2015 4:52 pm

placeholder[1]Across the country, people are suffering the consequences of a banking system that’s dominated by a handful of giant banks. Local businesses can’t get[2] the credit[3] they need to grow. College graduates are stumbling under the weight of student debt with sky-high interest rates. Neighborhoods are being stripped of their assets through predatory mortgages and consumer loans. And taxpayers are on the hook for municipal finance schemes[4] peddled by Wall Street and loaded with hidden costs.

Banking has become untethered from communities, and indeed, from the very economy it is supposed to serve. The nation’s biggest banks have managed to invert the natural order of things, so that their profitability is no longer predicated on the health of the broader economy. Instead, as much recent scholarship[5] has shown, the growth of these giant conglomerates is actually harming the rest of the economy.

Remarkably, one state has largely escaped this predicament: North Dakota.

In North Dakota, the banking sector bears little resemblance to that of the rest of the country. North Dakotans do not depend on Wall Street banks to decide the fate of their livelihoods and the future of their communities, and rely instead on locally owned banks and credit unions. With 89 small and mid-sized community banks and 38 credit unions, North Dakota has six times as many locally owned financial institutions per person as the rest of the nation. And these local banks and credit unions control a resounding 83 percent of deposits in the state — more than twice the 30 percent market share that small and mid-sized financial institutions have nationally.

Map: Number of banks by state.[6] (more…)[7]

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Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders in Action

by Linda Bilsens | August 31, 2015 3:00 pm

Why Size Matters in Community Composting

ILSR has long touted the many benefits of composting[1] and amending soil with compost, such as: recovering food waste, enhancing soil fertility and structure, reducing soil erosion and stormwater runoff, cutting landfill methane emissions, and sequestering carbon in soils. Yet few jurisdictions are embracing a diversified composting infrastructure that encompasses, let alone prioritizes developing locally-based capacity over centralized, far-away composting sites. Far-away facilities make it harder to return finished compost back to the community for use. Fortunately, one of the many beauties of composting is that it can be small-scale, large-scale and everything in between. Residents can compost in their backyards. Schools can teach students how to compost and use it for school gardens. Colleges and other institutions can install in-vessel enclosed systems to handle their food wastes. Community gardens and urban farms can connect composting to healthy soil needed for local food production.

If implemented, a decentralized approach that combines home and community-scale composting with on-farm and medium-sized operations would create jobs[2], reduce private and public sector costs for managing waste, and better tie compost to healthy soils and local food production, thereby reinforcing a community culture of sustainability and engaged environmental stewardship. But, even at the small-scale, composting sites required trained operators. It is for this kind of well-managed, diversified resource recovery approach that ILSR’s Composting for Community Project advocates.


The Evolution of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program

In 2014, the Composting for Community Project researched, identified and surveyed existing master composter training programs operating around the country. The intention of this outreach was to connect these programs with one another, as well as to glean best practices to develop and launch a model Master Composter and Advanced Master Composter train-the-trainer apprenticeship program in and around the nation’s capital. This initiative is now called the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program[3]. The NSR Composter Training Program, a collaboration with ECO City Farms[4], aims to increase and improve community-based composting throughout the country by enhancing and expanding Master Composter training programs in metropolitan DC and in select cities nationwide.

As of August 2015, we have held a fall 2014 and a spring 2015 Master Composter course, have trained a total of 28 individuals and have supported the implementation of community composting projects throughout the DC metro area. Upon completion of the Advanced Composter course, participants are required to develop a “capstone” project—a project that advances community composting in their neighborhoods—as part of the NSR Advanced Composter program. The different types of capstone projects range from: building and/or operating a two- or three-bin composting system at a community garden to serve as a local organics drop-off composting hub and educational demonstration site in collaboration with ECO City Farms or the DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Community Compost Cooperative Network[5]; initiating a residential backyard composting program by installing single-bin composting systems at local private residences; developing a condominium vermicomposting system by installing worm bins with fellow apartment dwellers; implementing school composting programs to teach youth composting as well as other core curriculum subjects like math and science, and conducting community events to install composting systems with students, parents, school staff, and environmental clubs; and working with churches and youth-led entrepreneurship to use composting as a “green” job training skill and activity for at-risk youth in crime-ridden, impoverished urban environments.

While participants from the spring 2015 course actively delve into their capstone projects and continuous NSR programming will grow the number of project locations, to date, these projects are being implemented at as many as 22 backyard and community level composting sites in the DC Metropolitan Area. All capstone projects involve teamwork as NSR participants champion the development of community composting by recruiting support from neighborhood citizens, school faculty and staff, business owners, government officials, church clergy and parishioners, and others. These capstone projects consist of teams led by a single NSR as well as NSRs that are partnering to co-lead a project. In sum, the fall 2014 Advanced Composter class has conducted approximately 123 community engagement activities thus far, reaching a total of 1,562 community members. Through hands-on composting activities and bin builds, capstone project development, and community-composting education and advocacy, NSRs completed approximately 635 hours of community service benefiting the National Capital Region.


Take a tour of some NSr Capstone Projects:

2015 NSR Capstone Project Site Tour[6] from lbilsens[7]
A hearty thanks to the Ittleson Foundation, the City Fund, the Town Creek Foundation, the Marisla Foundation, the New York Community Trust, the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, and the Mead Foundation for their generous support of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilder composter training program!
  1. many benefits of composting:
  2. create jobs:
  3. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program:
  4. ECO City Farms:
  5. DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Community Compost Cooperative Network:
  6. 2015 NSR Capstone Project Site Tour:
  7. lbilsens:

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New Municipal Broadband Feasibility Study Underway in Firestone, CO

by ILSR | August 31, 2015 10:41 am

The Board of Trustees for the city of Firestone, CO is evaluating the feasibility of a new municipal broadband service for this growing town of about 10,000 people that sits just 30 miles north of Denver. This according to a recent report[1] in the Times-Call newspaper in Longmont, Colorado.  The feasibility study will compare Firestone’s existing telecommunications infrastructure with those in nearby communities such as Longmont[2] and Boulder[3] that already have municipal networks. It will also assess the potential for growth of the service in Firestone to a nearby 3,500-home community development project.

It would be travesty to build a 3,500 home development without having a plan for high quality Internet access. Even if CenturyLink or Comcast were to deploy fiber optics there, the community should ensure there are plans for conduit or an open network to allow multiple service providers to provide a real choice.

A 2005 Colorado state law barring municipalities from providing internet service to their citizens has been an obstacle for Longmont and Boulder in their pursuit of their own city-run broadband services.  Telecommunications companies in the Longmont area spent $200,000 on a campaign that helped defeat the referendum in 2009 and $400,000 more in 2011[4].  But citizens in Longmont successfully voted in the 2011 referendum to exempt their town from the law and build their own community broadband network. As we wrote in May[5], Longmont’s NextLight fiber-based municipal broadband service, which started just 2 years ago, is now among the fastest internet services in the United States.

In Boulder, 84% of citizens voted in a 2014 referendum to restore the local government’s rights to restore local telecommunications authority. The city now provides free municipal Wi-Fi throughout the downtown civic area[6] and additional fiber-optic infrastructure servicing city facilities with plans for further expansion.

As the Longmont Times-Call wrote in December[7], Longmont’s struggles and eventual success in starting their own fiber-based municipal network helped to pave the way for Boulder.  The success of those efforts also provide favorable local precedents for Firestone officials and other local advocates to demonstrate how well fiber-based municipal networks can benefit a community. According to Firestone spokeswoman Kristi Ridder, the possibility of Firestone eventually getting its own municipal broadband service is still a ways off, with no ballot question planned yet on Colorado State Bill 152.  But she acknowledged that inquiries from residents have prompted town boards to discuss the possibility of a community broadband service over the past several years.

This article is apart of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[8]

  1. recent report:
  2. Longmont:
  3. Boulder:
  4. spent $200,000 on a campaign that helped defeat the referendum in 2009 and $400,000 more in 2011:
  5. As we wrote in May:
  6. provides free municipal Wi-Fi throughout the downtown civic area:
  7. the Longmont Times-Call wrote in December:
  8. here:

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Procurement Can Be a Powerful Tool for Local Economies, but Takes More Than a Policy Change to Work

by Olivia LaVecchia | August 27, 2015 11:00 am

When Bill de Blasio took office as New York City’s mayor in 2014, his administration began to tackle a less-than-flashy issue: How to change who was winning city contracts.

De Blasio had swept the election with a campaign promise of reducing income inequality, and re-directing NYC’s vast purchasing power was one of the wonky cornerstones of his plan to do it. So his administration started looking for ways to strengthen the city’s Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program, designed to help businesses owned by people of color and women bid on, and win, city contracts. It appointed committed staff, integrated the program into housing policies and Hurricane Sandy recovery projects, and launched new online tools for business owners.

The program became “a core part of the mayor’s strategy on inequality,” one of de Blasio’s top aides said[1], and the administration identified it as a “top priority[2].”

It worked. That year, New York City awarded $690 million in contracts to businesses majority-owned by minorities or women, a 57 percent increase from the year before — though still only about 4 percent of the city’s overall $17.7 billion in spending. Since then, de Blasio’s administration hasn’t let up. It’s commissioned an in-depth study of the program, sought changes to state laws that would strengthen it, and set a goal of increasing city awards to minority- and women-owned firms by $16 billion over 10 years.

New York City’s new emphasis on who it does business with is just one of the recent events that’s bringing the often-overlooked power of procurement into the spotlight.

The decision of which firm will get the food service contract at the City Hall cafeteria doesn’t always make it into the news, but local governments spend a lot of money. In towns, counties, and states everywhere, there are roads to be paved, lawyers to be hired, and office supplies to be purchased, and the rules set up to govern those contracts—procurement policies—can be important mechanisms for advancing other public aims.

At least 45 states, plus the District of Columbia, have procurement policies designed to give a preference to businesses that meet certain characteristics, such as those that are owned by veterans, pay certain wages, use environmentally sustainable practices, or manufacture within the state. Of these, about half have adopted an explicit preference for businesses that are small and/or local. These policies vary considerably. Some apply only in narrow circumstances; others are broader. In addition, more than thirty states have policies aimed at steering purchasing to minority- and women-owned businesses. Looking beyond state governments, large numbers of counties, cities, and towns have procurement policies of their own.

In these policies lies the potential for governments to grow their local economies. When dollars are spent at locally owned firms, those firms in turn rely on local supply chains, creating an “economic multiplier” effect. Numerous economic impact studies[3] have quantified this effect on dollars, jobs, and wages. A 2009 study from California State University at Sacramento, for example, found that the State of California generated approximately $4.2 billion in additional economic activity and 26,000 new jobs between 2006 and 2007 by contracting with disabled veteran-owned businesses and local small businesses instead of larger companies.

But while many states and cities have local procurement policies on the books, in a far smaller number of them are these policies delivering on their potential. (more…)[4]

  1. top aides said:
  2. top priority:
  3. Numerous economic impact studies:
  4. (more…):

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Buy America? Of Course. But You Can Do Even Better

by David Morris | August 24, 2015 8:01 am

“Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act,” Pope Francis announced[1] early this year. How can we spend our money as if our values matter?

In some sectors and for some values this is fairly easy. Food is an obvious example. Those who want to protect the environment and human and animal health will find abundant labels guiding them to the appropriate product: USDA Organic, free range, hormone free, grass fed. For those who want to strengthen community, shrink the distance between producer and consumer and support family farmers a growing number of grocery stores label locally grown or raised.

For those who want to support farmworkers as well as farmers, however, little guidance is available. The recently launched Equitable Food Initiative[2] and Food Justice Certified[3] labels hope to fill this gap. The former identifies food that has been harvested by workers paid a fair wage and laboring under safe and fair conditions. The latter offers three tiers of certification covering farm, processor and vendor/retailer. Only farms have been certified.

As for grocery stores, we can easily identify those cooperatively or locally owned. Going one step further along the supply chain we can use the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC)’s Diners Guide to Ethical Eating[4] downloadable app to identify restaurants that treat their workers well. Extra credit is given to non-chain businesses. To earn a favorable rating the restaurant must pay its non-tipped workers at least $10 an hour and tipped staff at least $7 an hour, grant all employees paid sick days and enable internal promotion.

The ethical consumer who wants to patronize a locally owned retail store in general can visit Independent We Stand[5] and download its mobile app. Or go to AMIBA[6] and BALLE[7] to find a list of independent business alliances in over 100 cities many of which have hundreds and even thousands of individual member businesses.

There are few guides to locally and rooted manufacturers. But 3-year-old San Francisco Made[8] offers an excellent model, interconnecting and nurturing its 325 member manufacturers located in that city.

The vast majority of products we purchase will come from regional and national firms. One can easily check to see if the company is American and sometimes that will be necessary even when we think we know from the product’s name what nationality the company is. As Roger Simmermaker, author[9] of How Americans Can Buy American and My Country ‘Tis of Thee points out, “Swiss Miss is American (based in Menomonie, Wisconsin) and Carnation is owned by the Swiss.” (more…)[10]

  1. announced:
  2. Equitable Food Initiative:
  3. Food Justice Certified:
  4. Diners Guide to Ethical Eating:
  5. Independent We Stand:
  6. AMIBA:
  7. BALLE:
  8. San Francisco Made:
  9. author:
  10. (more…):

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Conservatives Have Hijacked Our Language

by David Morris | August 23, 2015 12:11 pm

placeholder[1]“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me.” A fine sentiment, but any child subjected to cyber bullying knows that words do indeed matter.

Words mixed upLanguage evolves. Sometimes a word that once was negative becomes positive, like “terrific” which originally meant terrifying. Sometimes a word that was once positive becomes negative, as when “awful” changes from awe inspiring to very bad.

In politics too words matter, and in politics too language evolves. In the last 50 years we have witnessed a politically motivated sea change in the meaning of old words and the introduction of new words, all intended to undermine our sense of compassion.


The prime example is how we’ve changed the meaning of the word “liberal”. For almost 700 years the word meant generous, selfless, noble, tolerant. When the word began to describe a political philosophy it mostly retained its original meaning.  According[2] to the Oxford English Dictionary, aside from being “broadminded” a liberal is someone “favoring political reform tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual.”

And then the 1960s happened. The Great Society, and civil rights legislation, spawned a change in the definition of liberal. We began to hear the phrase “bleeding heart liberal” to describe someone excessively softhearted.

The miracle of Google’s ngram allows us to trace the popularity of words and phrases in million of books. As we can see, “bleeding heart liberal” comes of age in the 1960s.

Bleeding heart liberal[3]

Within 20 years the word “liberal” had been demonized. Long time Chicago based columnist Mike Royko wondered why the term had become so negative if the major criticism of it was that a liberal was too compassionate. He thought the reason was racism. “So I learned that in Chicago, as in many parts of the South and other big cities, the word liberal has one basic, simple definition. It’s just another word for ‘nigger lover’”, Royko concluded[4]. (more…)[5]

  1. [Image]:
  2. According:
  3. [Image]:
  4. concluded:
  5. (more…):

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WEBINAR: The State of the Art of Extended Producer Responsibility

by Rebecca Toews | August 17, 2015 4:06 pm

The nature of US discussions on EPR in general and for packaging have changed significantly in the past year. The California Product Stewardship determined to focus on EPR for toxic and hard to recycle materials. The Berkeley City Council and  the Global Recycling Council of the California Resource Recovery Association passed resolutions calling for public control rather than corporate control over EPR programs. The implementation of corporate controlled EPR in British Columbia and other Canadian provinces have provide revealing experiences for analysis.  During this period major US consumer goods corporations formed the Closed Loop Recycling Fund and the Recycling Partnership – new voluntary initiatives to provide loans and grants to communities for recycling.

What exactly is the role of EPR in the U S recycling movement?

On Wednesday, August 12, six experts came together to discuss the future of EPR in the US. This is a recording of that discussion.

Part 1: Presentations: Matt Prindiville and Neil Seldman[1]

Part 2: Panelist Discussion: Dan Knapp, Mary Lou Van Deventer, Dick Lilly[2]

Part 3: Panelist Q&A: Moderated by Maurice Sampson[3]

The Webinar discusses the transition of thinking and practice of EPR for packaging. Neil Seldman, ILSR and Matt Prindiville, from UPSTREAM presents. Maurice Sampson, Niche Recycling and board member of Clean Water Action, moderates.

In addition to those presentations, the Webinar featured responses to the presentations by key participants in the national EPR dialogue: Dan Knapp and Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, and Dick Lilly, former Seattle Metropolitan Solid Waste Authority.

  1. Part 1: Presentations: Matt Prindiville and Neil Seldman:
  2. Part 2: Panelist Discussion: Dan Knapp, Mary Lou Van Deventer, Dick Lilly:
  3. Part 3: Panelist Q&A: Moderated by Maurice Sampson:

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Who Has Citywide Gigabit Internet Access for $100 or Less?

by ILSR | August 10, 2015 3:56 pm

As Westminster begins serving customers with its new FTTH network and partner Ting[1], we were curious how many communities are there where a residential subscriber can obtain affordable gigabit access? We estimate the number of networks, large or small, where a majority of residents in a community can obtain gigabit service for $100 or less to be 12. Westminster will be there in a few years.

Municipal citywide, sub $100 gigabit providers:


Private Companies:

We included municipal networks, cooperatives, and privately owned companies. When considering networks that cover multiple jurisdictions in a single area, we counted it as one (thus Google counts as 1 in KC, Chattanooga is 1 in TN). And we were looking for gigabit networks – not just gigabit download. While we prefer to see symmetrical connections, we accepted 500 Mbps up for our threshold.

We could not identify any cities served by AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, Comcast, Cox, or any other similar company where the majority of the community has access to a gig. Those providers tend to cherry pick and even then, their prices are over $100 typically. For example, CenturyLink advertises a gig at $80 but then requires other services and hidden fees that make the monthly bill closer to $150.

We found affordable residential gigabit service from networks in urban, suburban, or rural communities from 12 networks (some of which cover multiple communities). Trying to determine how much of the community has access to a service is challenging, so please contact us[2] with any corrections. In a few years, munis like Longmont and private companies like Ting will join the list.

While the number of providers are few, many of them do serve multiple communities. The coops, including Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative[3] in Alabama and Missouri’s Co-Mo Cooperative[4], provide the service to a long list of smaller communities within their service areas. There is also the open access network UTOPIA, with at least 7 providers[5] that offer gigabit FTTH below our price point in nine communities currently served by the network (to various degrees, some cities have little coverage whereas others are almost entirely built out).

Prices range from $0 to $99.95 per month with the highest concentration at $70 or higher. In North Kansas City[6], residents pay $300 for installation and receive gigabit Internet access for $0 per month for the next 10 years. This incredible offer is available due to the presence of LiNKCity, a network deployed by the city and now managed and operated by a private partner.

AT&T has launched its $70 GigaPower in parts of 12 different metro areas[7], although the price requires users to submit to a special web based advertising program. Even when these big firms finally invest in high capacity connections, they find new ways to exploit their subscribers – a reminder that who deploys a technology can be as important as what that technology is.

Now that the gig barrier has been blasted away (primarily by municipal networks and smaller ISPs) we expect to see more networks and providers offering affordable gig service to residents.

Gigabit Cat photo courtesy of Michael Himbeault[8] and shared through a Creative Commons license.

This article is apart of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[9]

  1. and partner Ting:
  2. contact us:
  3. Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative:
  4. Missouri’s Co-Mo Cooperative:
  5. at least 7 providers:
  6. North Kansas City:
  7. 12 different metro areas:
  8. courtesy of Michael Himbeault:
  9. here:

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Two Decades of Solar Pioneers in Sacramento – Episode 27 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by John Farrell | August 7, 2015 12:00 pm

The publicly-owned Sacramento Municipal Utility District, or SMUD, had already installed the first utility-scale PV array in the nation back in 1984. By the early 1990s, the utility saw a potential for rooftop solar and launched its PV Pioneer program, placing dozens of solar arrays on their customer’s rooftops, for a fee. The standardized rollout meant dramatic declines in the cost of solar, long before the industry had launched anywhere else.

In June, ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell spoke with Brent Sloan, the “solar dude” at SMUD, to talk about these ahead-of-the-curve PV Pioneer programs[1] and how his utility was created a viable rooftop solar market 20 years before other utility’s have “waved the white flag.”


From the Ground Up

In the 1980s and ‘90s, the electric utility industry was all about Big: big mergers, building bigger power plants, selling big amounts of energy. But the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California decided to go another direction.

Unlike investor-owned utilities, beholden to shareholders, SMUD was and is owned by the local government. It had a history of being responsive to its customers, such as when it closed the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant[8] just 14 years after it began operations. The closure, in 1989, was one of the catalysts for the utility’s search for energy alternatives like solar.

The PV Pioneer program launched in 1993, with the intention of rapidly driving down the cost of solar. The “secret sauce” was the utility’s buying-down power and providing a standardized solar panel package to its ratepayers, and  standard permit application to local governments. “You can have any solar system you want in Sacramento as long as it’s a black Model T,” Sloan says about the 2 kilowatt solar system then offered to all SMUD customers. The popular program asked customers to pay a $4 per month premium to host a SMUD-owned solar array on their rooftop.

By the late 1990s, the utility felt that cost reductions made customer ownership of solar more feasible, and its Pioneer II program offered subsidized, utility installed solar arrays to customers. In 2001, the total cost of a 2 kW solar array purchased under the program was $9,000 ($4.50 per Watt[9]) with the customer’s share at just $6,000. That installed cost was nearly 10 years ahead of its time: $4.50 per Watt was the weighted average installed cost of all solar PV tracked by the Solar Energy Industries Association in 2011.

Sloan couldn’t vouch for the linked study where we got our numbers from, but he said the price drop from PV wasn’t magic. Before most others, SMUD workers were learning best solar installation practices, and potential solar contractors and building officials were then trained by the utility. Sloan and his team were crawling through attics, determining how many pounds of solar equipment could fit on the roof, long before industry-approved numbers became the norm.

Softening the Costs

Alongside the PV Pioneer program, SMUD created a standardized permit package[10] for its several jurisdictions. That meant solar contractors could get a permit within 24 hours of submission and, for some time, all involved cities waived rooftop solar application fees for SMUD customers. The ultimate goal was to drive down the installed cost of solar far enough that SMUD and subsidies would not be necessary.

SMUD’s efforts were superseded—to some extent—by the statewide California Solar Initiative program, which dramatically diversified the solar market (to the potential disadvantage for cost reductions). Although solar installations have continued steadily for some time, SMUD customers have less financial incentive due to their low electricity prices (around 9 cents per kilowatt-hour).

“The biggest comment we get from contractors is, ‘When are you going to raise your rates?’” he laughs.

But that may be changing. Less than six months ago the municipal utility had 70 interconnections a month. Now it’s up to 300 a month.

On his own home, Sloan has 9 kilowatts of solar, getting him as close to 100% sun-power as possible (on a net annual basis). Though he benefits from net metering[11], he believes it’s a compensation arrangement that will have to change, and time-of-use rates will need to be used[12], along with policies that get at the true value of solar energy to an electrical grid.

Following SMUD’s Lead, or Pursuing Something Else?

Some investor-owned utilities such as Tucson Electric Power and Georgia Power are now creating programs to own solar on their customers’ homes (look for an ILSR article on this next week). Sloan doesn’t see that as necessarily a positive sign, but more of a “white flag” that these electric utilities didn’t do enough to create a viable private marketplace for solar power.

As he and SMUD could attest, that solar value is there, even if you have to make a PV Pioneer program or two to make a sustainable marketplace for it to shine.

If you liked the short version, you call also listen to the full 40-minute interview[13].

This is the 27th edition of Local Energy Rules[14], an ILSR podcast with Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.

It is published intermittently on, but you can Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[15] or RSS/XML[16]

This article originally posted at[17]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[18] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[19] update.

Photo credit: Tim Fuller via Flickr[20] (CC BY 2.0 license)

  1. PV Pioneer programs:
  2. [Image]:
  3. Play in new window:
  4. Download:
  5. iTunes:
  6. Android:
  7. RSS:
  8. Rancho Seco nuclear power plant:
  9. $4.50 per Watt:
  10. SMUD created a standardized permit package:
  11. net metering:
  12. time-of-use rates will need to be used:
  13. full 40-minute interview:
  14. Local Energy Rules:
  15. iTunes:
  16. RSS/XML:
  18. Twitter:
  19. Democratic Energy weekly:
  20. via Flickr:

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Environmental Justice Victory in DC, as Mayor Pulls Incinerator Contract

by Neil Seldman | August 6, 2015 3:47 pm

Recycling advocates had stopped any ideas of building a garbage incinerator in the District of Columbia. Now, we are trying to stop the city from sending its garbage to Fairfax County for incineration. Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network, coordinator of this latter effort, describes the recent victory as the city has tabled a proposal to sign a 5-11 year contract with the Fairfax County incinerator.

Energy Justice Network and ILSR will continue to insist that DC’s garbage does not become a feedstock for incineration; as we continue to press the city to double its current recycling rate, 25%, in the next few years.

Read the full story here[1] from Energy Justice Network, July 27, 2015

  1. Read the full story here:

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Sanding Down the Rough Edges of Capitalism Is Not Enough

by David Morris | August 6, 2015 9:48 am

The catalyst for a recent column[1] by David Brooks was a speech delivered by his New York Times colleague Anand Giridharadas at the Aspen Action Forum. (Giridharadas writes the Letter from America[2] column for the Global Edition of the Times) Giridharadas questioned[3] the “Aspen Consensus” that the wealthy and powerful, the benefactors of the Aspen Institute, could be asked to “do more good” but not to “do less harm”. He challenged his well-to-do, well-intentioned audience not to settle for making “an unjust and unpalatable system a little more digestible” and confront the “underlying system” that has created massive inequality and injustice. In short, he bluntly urged his audience to be “traitors to our class.”

Giridharadas received a standing ovation.

Brooks was collegially horrified, particularly by what he saw as Giridharadas’ inevitable embrace of government being “more heavily involved.”

“The coming debate about capitalism will be between those who want to restructure the underlying system and those who want to help people take advantage of its rough intensity,” Brooks insists. “It will be between people who think you need strong government to defeat oligarchy and those who think you need open competition.”

I prefer the word “savagery” to “rough intensity” but congratulate Brooks for conceding that we do have an oligarchy. And I prefer to use the verb governing rather than the noun government. Brooks description of government conjures up a stifling, bumbling bureaucracy whose interventions usually do far more harm than good. But the debate is not about how to grow a bureaucracy but how to exercise collective authority to change rules that enable and encourage a system that, in Giridharadas’ words, generates “extreme winners and extreme losers.”

Brooks’ refusal to support government as a key tool in restraining and eventually eliminating an oligarchy is disingenuous. For he knows that government has been the key tool enabling and encouraging the massive concentration of wealth and power.

The modern corporation, for example, may be the most enduring and extensive of all government interventions. In the 17th century, governments created a fictitious creature: the limited liability corporation. Investors could amass unlimited personal wealth but if the business failed or was engaged in criminal acts the investors were liable for no more than the amount they had invested. In the 19th century governments endowed corporations with unlimited life and charters so broad they could engage in all forms of commerce. In the 20th century courts bestowed on corporations personhood and in the 21st century allowed these artificial persons to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

To my knowledge David Brooks has yet to rail against this most enduring and heavy-handed of all interventions by government. (more…)[4]

  1. column:
  2. Letter from America:
  3. questioned:
  4. (more…):

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To Lease or To Own: Simplified Solar Calculator

by Matt Grimley | August 4, 2015 12:23 pm

Now simplified, the new solar lease calculator is here.

Just enter in your zip code, electric utility, and solar array size. Then set the terms of your loan or lease to see how solar ownership stacks up against third-party options.

Purchase (cash): Customer owns the PV system from day one, pays upfront with cash
Purchase (loan): Customer owns the PV sysytem starting Day 1. It is purchased with a loan, sometimes with a down-payment and paid back at a fixed interest rate
Lease, 15-year buyout: Install company or developer owns the PV System. Customer pays a fixed monthly payment that is adjusted for inflation. At 15 years, the customer elects to purchase the system and assumes full ownership.
Lease, extension: Same as “Lease, 15-year buyout” except that in Year 15 the customer elects to extend the lease with the leasing company

We assumed a $4 cost per watt, along with the 30% federal ITC. Note that utility data is based on residential rates from EIA-861 forms[1], so some electric utilities’ rates might be out of date. Also note that insolation rates by zip code were gleaned from U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory data[2].

Have fun! And be prepared for our complex solar lease calculator — meant for more data mushing — due out out soon.

This article originally posted at[3]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[4] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[5] update.

  1. EIA-861 forms:
  2. U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory data:
  4. Twitter:
  5. Democratic Energy weekly:

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Clean Power Plan: 50 Ways to Get More Clean, Local Energy

by John Farrell | August 3, 2015 11:26 am

The Obama administration released the Clean Power Plan[1] today requiring substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the electricity sector. The plan sets targets from the top down, but largely leaves the details to states, providing a significant opportunity to craft rules that encourage energy development and ownership from the bottom up.

These 50 state plans have huge stakes.

Collectively, U.S. electric customers spend over $360 billion each year buying power. Most of that is generated from fossil fuels, frequently extracted outside their own state. In other words, most of that money leaves their community to pay for dirty energy. But the electricity system is undergoing enormous transformation.

Driven by improvements in energy efficiency, electricity consumption peaked in 2007 and has been stagnant ever since. Distributed solar, like that found on home rooftops, has provided more than 5% of newly added power plant capacity since 2011. In 2013, nearly one-third of all new power plant capacity was from solar energy. The profusion of smartphones is giving customers innovative ways to control energy use, from web-connected thermostats to light bulbs. Consulting firm Accenture estimates that these disruptive and economical technologies could save electric customers up to $48 billion over the next 10 years[2].

Electric utilities are aware of the threat. Already, they’ve mounted serious fights against rooftop solar[3] in over two dozen states, despite ample proof that it’s of benefit to electric customers and the grid[4]. Once they’ve exhausted their legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan, utilities will be interested in compliance strategies that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and threats to their business model. That’s likely to mean big infrastructure investments—utilities have traditionally made their profit by earning a return on new power lines and power plants—and utility control or ownership of cleaner power generation.

But electric customers shouldn’t settle for last century’s centralized control and ownership of a grid dominated by this century’s decentralized technology.

For example, several cities[5] and counties[6] in California are forming community alternatives to incumbent electric utilities, delivering cleaner (often local) power at a comparable or lower cost. Grassroots action in Minneapolis, MN, has driven its utilities into a novel clean energy partnership[7] with the city.  Community solar[8] programs are expanding rapidly, allowing electric customers to reduce their energy bills, even when they lack ownership of or sunshine on their rooftop. And community energy projects[9] are allowing Americans to pool their resources and own a share in the clean energy transformation.

The Clean Power Plan is a breath of fresh air from the federal government too often known for climate inaction, but it shouldn’t reinforce an increasingly un-natural electric company monopoly[10] over the electric system. Instead, use each states’s implementation of the Plan as a catalyst for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for individuals and communities to take charge.

This article originally posted at[11]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[12] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[13] update.

  1. Clean Power Plan:
  2. $48 billion over the next 10 years:
  3. serious fights against rooftop solar:
  4. benefit to electric customers and the grid:
  5. several cities:
  6. counties:
  7. novel clean energy partnership:
  8. Community solar:
  9. projects:
  10. increasingly un-natural electric company monopoly:
  12. Twitter:
  13. Democratic Energy weekly:

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AT&T, Comcast, Lies Hurt Homeowners

by ILSR | August 1, 2015 10:27 am

As of this January[1], the FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps[2] downstream[3] and 3 Mbps upstream[4], but in some rural areas in the United States, people are still struggling to access DSL[5] speeds of 768 kbps[6]. In a few extreme cases, individuals who rely on the Internet for their jobs and livelihoods have been denied access completely.

The sad state of affairs for many Americans who subscribe to the major Internet service providers like AT&T and CenturyLink was recently chronicled in an article on Ars Technica[7] that examined AT&T’s stunning combination of poor customer service, insufficient infrastructure, and empty promises to subscribers. It tells the unfortunately common story of the little guy being systematically overlooked by a massive corporation focused solely on short-term profit maximization.

Mark Lewis of Winterville, Georgia, and Matthew Abernathy of Smyrna, Tennessee, are two examples of AT&T subscribers who, upon moving into new homes, found that not only were they unable to access basic DSL speeds, but that they had no Internet access whatsoever. Alternatively citing a lack of DSL ports and insufficient bandwidth[8], AT&T failed to provide Lewis Internet access over the course of nearly two years. As for Abernathy, the corporation strung him along for 9 months without providing DSL, forcing him and his wife to rely on a much more expensive Verizon cellular network to go online.

The struggle that Lewis and Abernathy, as well as others cited in the article, face speaks to the larger problem of individuals relying on large, absentee corporations for their Internet access. Though AT&T has claimed that it intends to expand broadband access to rural and underserved communities[9], it hasn’t lived up to that promise. Ars Technica estimates that even if AT&T’s merger with DirecTV is approved[10], which the company says would facilitate the construction of new copper lines in underserved regions, 17 million subscribers would be stuck with slow DSL connections or no Internet at all.

This isn’t the first time that a company like AT&T has been called out for promising broadband service and failing to deliver it. Ars Technica reported on a similar story in April[11] of this year. And tales of Comcast’s incompetence[12] are also easy to find.

For residents of rural communities who rely on the Internet for work, the paucity of broadband options can even be a legitimate reason for individuals to sell their houses and move, which — spoiler alert — is what Lewis eventually did:

With no wireline Internet available, Lewis and his wife have relied on Verizon Wireless service. This has limited Lewis’ ability to work at home. Luckily, they won’t be there much longer — Lewis, his wife, and their kids are putting their house on the market and moving to Massachusetts, where he’s secured a new job at a technology company.

The new job is “the main reason we’re moving,” he said. “But in the back of my mind this whole time, I’m saying we can’t continue to live here.”

And while things turned out OK for Lewis and his family, limited broadband access in rural communities remains an obstacle for many. Individuals and communities should continue to demand accountability from their ISPs, who have for too long reneged on their not-so-ambitious broadband promises.

  1. As of this January:
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  10. AT&T’s merger with DirecTV is approved:
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Brenda Platt: State of Composting Presentation – Maryland 2015

by Brenda Platt | July 24, 2015 12:39 pm

ILSR co-director, Brenda Platt, gave a presentation at the Maryland Recycling Network’s 2015 Annual Conference.  Her talk, State of Composting in the US: What, Why, Where & How, provided and update and overview of ILSR’s report[1] that documents what is currently happening in organics management across the U.S.

View or download Brenda’s presentation[2] to the Maryland Recycling Network – June 26, 2015

  1. ILSR’s report:
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Comcast’s Big Gig Rip-Off

by Rebecca Toews | July 22, 2015 10:21 am

For some five years now, many have been talking about gigabit Internet access speeds. After arguing for years that no one needed higher capacity connections, Comcast has finally unveiled its new fiber optic option. And as Tech Dirt notes[1], it is marketed as being twice as fast but costs 4x as much (even more in the first year!).

We decided to compare the Comcast offering to muni fiber gigabit options.


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Watch: Is Socialism What’s Stopping a Fair Value for Solar?

by John Farrell | July 21, 2015 2:16 pm

Complete nonsense. The most socialistic thing I’ve ever heard. That’s just two quotes from a value of solar conversation between ILSR’s John Farrell and Karl Rábago of the Pace Energy and Climate Center that took place online on July 8, 2015.

More and more people are installing solar, significantly reducing their purchase of electricity from utility companies. In response, many utilities are proposing changes to fees and compensation to reduce the incentive to go solar. In 2013, Minnesota lawmakers tried to identify a compromise, called the value of solar[1], to have utilities accurately calculate the value of electricity from customer-owned solar arrays. While the policy has helped add to the mountain of evidence[2] that solar energy has significant value, no utility has adopted it.

The following summary is of a webinar conversation to uncover what solar is worth, and how legislators and energy regulators can implement policies to support that value. The webinar was largely based on this post: We Have Value of Solar, But Should We Use It?[3]. Note: the video below cuts out 10 minutes early but has some useful annotations. Click here for the un-annotated full video[4].

John began with a 10-minute overview of the value of solar policy, and then he began with some “sponsored questions” from solar luminaries for Karl to answer.

Not Buy-All Sell-All

Karl opened by clarifying a further point about the value of solar policy: it’s not a feed-in tariff where customers buy all their power from the utility and sell their solar production to the utility. Rather, it’s a twist on the bill credit concept of net metering, but changes the value of the bill credit from kilowatt-hours to a calculated value of solar energy. The transaction remains behind the meter.

How Can Customers Make an Informed Investment?

Rick Gilliam of Vote Solar asked, how can customers anticipate their investment with value of solar instead of net metering? Karl notes that net metering allows customers to understand how their consumption will be reduced, and to assume that if electric rate rise, so will their savings. As designed in Minnesota, customers would lock in a known price for their solar energy, and if they can count on their solar array to produce as much as they expect, they could accurately know better what their expected revenue would be over time.

In other places, however, the value of solar price isn’t locked in. In that case, it would be more like net metering where the future of electric rates is not known.

Can Utilities Implement New Policies?

electric meter - flickr Joe[5]Jigar Shah notes that net metering is a legacy of antiquated utility billing systems, where the mechanical utility meter could only tell the utility how much energy was consumed since the last time it was read. The rotating disk could go forward or backward, and if a customer had solar, show the net use. New technology enables new policies, such as pricing based on time of consumption.

If a utility has only the original mechanical meters, it won’t be able to implement anything more sophisticated. For example, Xcel Energy in Minnesota may not be able to implement the state’s value of solar tariff without upgrading their mechanical meters.

How Will the Value of Solar Change?

In the most sophisticated system, a utility with minute-by-minute knowledge of the cost of power delivery would be able to price the value of solar all the time. It would be the polar opposite of long-term, fixed price power purchase contracting, the more typical practice.

interest rates - flickr Mike Mozart[6]The level of stability is a policy choice, and Karl suggests that customers should be able to choose. Those who want a long-term, fixed price could accept a modestly lower price for solar generation. Those who are willing to accept the risk of fluctuation could get a higher rate (the reverse of home mortgages, where adjustable rate mortgages are cheaper—initially—than 30-year fixed mortgages).

Net metering, based on retail electric rates, is a mix. Rate cases don’t necessarily happen every year, but rates can go up or down, changing the compensation for solar producers (in the past decade, rates have gone up steadily). Karl notes that “I’ve only done a few hundred of them…but in [no rate case] that I’ve seen has the solar industry appeared to say, when you set this retail rate remember that this is going to be the substitute rate for solar.” In other words, utilities don’t consider the retail rate to be a substitute for the value of solar, and a rate case considers many more factors than solar value. They’ve often been the vehicle for utilities to insert unfavorable charges against solar customers.

Demand and Fixed Charges

Charges based on peak energy use or fixed fees are policy tools utilities can (and have) used to reduce the economic value of conservation or solar energy. They are costly and also economically irrational, says Karl.

“How easily a utility could go to a customer…and use some demand response or solar or some storage and find a far less expensive way to reduce their peak [energy use] than just to charge them for it and to build the system for it…This is a rate that says ‘please, make us overbuild the system…starbucks logo w cover - flickr Barbara Piancastelli and JFF[7]make us find the most expensive solution to customer behavior that’s out there. Make us ignore all the other alternatives.'”

Such charges are also unjust.

No utility should be allowed…to impose charges on customers that customers have no tools to manage against.” It incentivizes overbuilding the electricity system in a way that is profitable for shareholder owned utilities to the detriment of electric customers.

Karl skewers another utility company sacred cow: that fixed fees are necessary to recover fixed costs. It’s “Complete nonsense…just a way of securing monopoly rents.” He illustrates with Starbucks. It’s a “high fixed cost business. But they are very competitive with a variable pricing scheme. They would not survive if they had a $10 cover charge.”

Average Rates are the Bigger Issue

Utilities lump customers into very large classes—e.g. commercial, residential, industrial—that create unreasonable expectations. Karl notes, “Most of the utility argument today about the problem of solar is that customers with solar are using less electricity than the utility hoped they would.” Utilities “calculate an average rate for an entire customer class (whether it’s a low income household with fridge and box fan or a rich suburbanite with 10-ton air conditioner). They complain that when you go spend some of your hard-earned money…to reduce your electric bills, that they have to be able to charge you back because you’re not using average in your class. It’s the most socialistic thing I’ve ever heard.”

another duck chart[8]The Impact of Solar on Demand (the Duck Chart)

Some utilities are crying “fowl” with a “duck chart[9]” that illustrates how solar’s impact on mid-day electricity demand could—with no other action—cause a rapid ramp in energy demand as the sun sets. Karl suggests that his duck chart (right) is just as useful for understanding the issue, and notes that Jim Lazar from RAP (and many others) have shown a host of resources we can use.

The Big Picture

Perhaps no comment was as illustrative of the battle over value of solar than Karl’s anecdote from a question he asked of a utility executive. In that conversation, Karl said, “How do you value behind the meter generation?” The utility person replied, “Because we neither own nor control it, we assign it no value at all.”

This article originally posted at[10]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[11] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[12] update.

 Photo credits:


  1. value of solar:
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  3. We Have Value of Solar, But Should We Use It?:
  4. un-annotated full video:
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  14. Mike Mozart via Flickr:
  15. Barbara Piancastelli via Flickr:
  16. Gary David Bouton:

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Greece, The Troika and Maggie Thatcher

by David Morris | July 18, 2015 12:47 pm

In its policies toward Greece, the “Troika” — a new shorthand for the combined will of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund — has actively and enthusiastically embraced Maggie Thatcher’s social and political philosophy, memorably captured in her chilling assertion, “There is no such thing as society.”

That philosophy has found its fullest and most concrete exposition in a 2014 “competition assessment[1]” of Greece made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  The OECD analyzed 555 Greek regulatory restrictions and made 329 specific recommendations the Troika expects Greece to enact with dispatch. Again and again the report views as virtually criminal regulations that favor small business, local ownership, and a reliance on local and domestic suppliers.

The OECD, for example, points an accusing finger at a Greek regulation requiring milk labeled “fresh” to have a maximum shelf life of 5 days. The regulation makes Greek “fresh” milk, on average, more expensive than in other EU countries. Why? “The high retail price of milk in Greece is a direct consequence of the high prices paid to Greek producers, since the five-day regulation makes imports next to impossible.” To the economists at the OECD and the Troika price is all. But the majority of Greeks, and I daresay many of the rest of us, might well support an agriculture policy that asks us to pay a few more cents for a bottle of milk to sustain and nurture an ecosystem of small, domestic dairy farmers.

The OECD demands Greece abolish any laws restricting the days or hours a business can operate (e.g., Sunday closing laws) — despite the fact that several European countries have enacted such policies to protect workers and small businesses. Germany has some of the most restrictive rules on opening hours of all.

The OECD insists, “The current retail price regulation of books should be abolished…” Why? “(N)ew retail channels such as the Internet will be developed.” The market demands that small publishers and bookstores make way for Amazon.

The OECD bids Greece abolish ownership provisions to “allow the development of retail pharmacy chains not owned or run by pharmacists.” The country’s pharmacy care should be opened to giant drugstore chains.

Each of these examples reveals a full-throated assault on Greek society by the Troika. Let’s examine the OECD and the Troika’s bid to overturn Greece’s pharmacy laws more closely. These require, as noted, that pharmacies be owned and operated by a licensed pharmacist, prohibit a pharmacist from owning more than one store, require that over-the-counter drugs be sold only in pharmacies, and cap the price of these medicines. The OECD’s demands galvanized a 24-hour strike by pharmacists in mid June. (more…)[2]

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Why Glass-Steagall Should Be a Key Issue During the 2016 Campaign

by Olivia LaVecchia | July 17, 2015 9:34 am

On Monday, Hillary Clinton gave the first big economic policy speech of her 2016 campaign. Toward the end of it, an audience member interrupted her, asking, “Senator Clinton, will you restore Glass-Steagall?”

In a campaign season already dominated by candidates’ pursuit of Wall Street donations, how to regulate the banking sector remains one of the most pressing issues facing the country. Seven years after the financial crisis of 2008, the “too big to fail” banks are bigger than ever[1], while the community banks that make the lion’s share of loans[2] to local entrepreneurs and meet other productive needs are disappearing[3].

The question that Clinton got on Monday cuts to the center of the debate. In the ongoing push to make our financial system one with less risk, and one that works for more Americans, there’s one policy that we know is effective. It’s the Glass-Steagall Act, a banking reform law passed in 1933, as lawmakers were grappling with the destructive banking activities that caused the Great Depression.

Unlike rules about trading derivatives or risk-weighted capital ratios—rules that, in their complexity, create loopholes for big banks’ fleets of lawyers to exploit—Glass-Steagall, in the course of a mere 37 pages, laid out a series of common-sense reforms[4]. The most central of these was a requirement that investment banks, those that trade securities, be separate from commercial banks, those that accept deposits. In other words, banks swapping subprime mortgage loans couldn’t fund those swaps with a person’s federally-insured life’s savings.

  1. bigger than ever:
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Introducing… MuniNetworks Economic Development Page

by Rebecca Toews | July 16, 2015 3:11 pm

Access to high-speed, broadband Internet facilitates economic development. Over the years, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has documented economic successes brought about by community broadband networks. We chose some of the most compelling examples, organized them by topic, and put them in one place for easy reference.

Check out our new economic development page[1]. The benefits of municipal networks are separated into various categories – ranging from job creation to advances in healthcare – with concrete examples from community broadband networks across the country.

Unfortunately, in some communities, a lack of broadband Internet continues to stunt economic growth – and has even forced businesses to relocate or shut down. In many cases, incumbent Internet service providers like AT&T and CenturyLink are not willing to provide business customers or local residents with next-generation fiber networks.

To boost economic development, local communities create their own fiber networks. Municipal fiber networks typically provide faster, more reliable, more affordable Internet access than incumbent networks because municipalities have a vested interest in seeing their community succeed.

Stories and examples of economic development resulting both directly and indirectly from community broadband networks abound, but until now these anecdotes and statistics were not consolidated into one place.

Take a look.[2]

  1. new economic development page:
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Neil Seldman: Letter in Response to Washington Post Recycling Article

by Neil Seldman | July 4, 2015 9:04 am

Neil Seldman – Letter to Editor

Dear Editor,

The Washington Post’s feature “American recycling is stalling[1]” (June 20), correctly points to problems caused by large single-stream recycling bins. But clarifications are needed.

Avoided costs: Cities do not make money from recycling. They reduce their overall costs of solid waste management because recycling costs less than managing garbage. Materials markets always fluctuate, but disposal costs only go up. DC did not make a profit from recycling. They received money from sales of materials, but these did not cover the cost of collection and transfer of materials. Garbage disposal and recycling both cost money. Recycling costs less when avoided costs are added to revenue.

Poor design: Cities also do not take full advantage of recycling. DC succumbed to the single-stream recycling and a well-run dual stream system, operated by a local company with over 20 workers, was put out of business. As a result the city is now spending about $1 million annually in hauling costs alone to truck recyclables to Elkridge, MD. Dual stream (keeping paper separate from mixed plastic, glass and metal) would also help the city get better participation because it is more instructive than single-stream recycling. A bottle bill would go a long way to recovering high quality glass to feed to regional glass manufacturers in Virginia while reducing contamination of recovered paper.

WMI complaints about the markets: This ignores the low quality of the product they produce by oversized machines run at over capacity. High garbage disposal costs are assured by concentrated ownership of processing plants, landfills and incinerators. Remember, WMI is in the business of collection and disposal and reluctantly added recycling due to citizen pressure but has never really been supportive of it. The company makes much more money landfilling than recycling.

US recycling has not stalled: The US recycling rate is closer to 48% than 34% when construction and demolition waste is counted. In addition to rapidly increasing recycling of C & D materials, electronic scrap and food waste are rapidly growing sectors. Many cities are increasing recycling levels to 50%-70% with plans to go higher.

Any city or county can reach high levels of recycling by using proven methods: monetary incentives, smart collection, use of the education system and developing local markets instead of looking to China. More than 50% of the waste stream can be recycled and marketed locally (construction & demolition, food discards, yard and storm debris). Lawrence, KS, and Austin, TX, have arranged for small scaled high-grade paper and cotton recycling mills to be built and create local markets as well as hundreds of good jobs.


Neil Seldman

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Trade and Sovereignty

by David Morris | June 21, 2015 1:06 pm

On May 8th at Nike’s headquarters, President Obama denounced[1] opponents of the hotly contested Trans-Pacific Partnership as ill informed. “(C)ritics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation….They’re making this stuff up. This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.”

On May 18th the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a final ruling in favor of Canada and Mexico in a case involving a US law requiring country-of-origin labels on packages of beef, pork, chicken and other kinds of meat. The WTO three judge panel estimated economic damages of more than $3 billion. These will be meted out by Canada and Mexico as retaliatory tariffs on a potentially wide array of U.S. industries, from “California wines to Minnesota mattresses,” as Gerry Ritz, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture predicted[2].

“The only way for the United States to avoid billions in immediate retaliation is to repeal COOL,” Ritz announced[3].

Congress hastened to comply. The day the WTO issued its ruling Rep. Michael Conway (R-TX) introduced legislation to overturn the COOL law. On June 10th the House overwhelmingly passed[4] the bill, 300-131.

The COOL decision and its almost immediate legislative impact demonstrated in real time the inaccuracy of President Obama’s comments. Encompassing 12 Pacific Rim countries with 40 percent of the world’s economy the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be the largest trade agreement since the WTO was formed in 1995. But to call it a trade agreement is both accurate and misleading for it conjures up images of agreements that largely target tariffs. That is no longer the case. Of TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only[5] five deal with traditional trade issues.

Modern trade agreements have less to do with trade than with sovereignty. The primary focus of modern trade agreements is the elimination of existing national and subnational laws that regulate commerce.

The decision about whether a country can force the livestock industry to reveal where their animals were reared and slaughtered is behind us. Currently under consideration by the WTO is whether a country can force businesses that sell a lethal product to make the packaging of that product unattractive.

The product is tobacco. Before the 1990s the US government actively assisted American tobacco in opening up markets in Asia by threatening trade fights with countries like Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea that refused to overturn domestic laws impeding companies from using sophisticated marketing techniques.

In the 1970s and 1980s, as evidence of the malignant effects of tobacco accumulated states and cities began to enact anti-smoking initiatives. In the 1990’s lawsuits by states resulted in a $200 billion settlement with tobacco companies and the discovery of concrete evidence that they had willfully kept from the American public the evidence that smoking can and in many cases does cripple or kill.

The increasingly schizophrenic nature of US tobacco policies led the GAO to issue a report[6] aptly titled: Dichotomy Between U.S. Tobacco Export Policy and Antismoking Initiatives. The GAO asked lawmakers to clarify which values would guide their decision-making. “If the Congress believes that trade concerns should predominate, then it should do nothing to alter the current trade policy process. The U.S. government can simultaneously continue to actively help U.S. cigarette exporters overcome foreign trade barriers and promote awareness of the dangers of smoking and further restrict the circumstances in which smoking may take place,” it advised. “If Congress believes that health considerations should have primacy, the Congress could grant the Department of Health and Human Services the responsibility to decide whether to pursue trade initiatives involving products with substantial adverse health consequences.” (more…)[7]

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For Cities, Big-Box Stores Are Becoming Even More of a Terrible Deal

by Olivia LaVecchia | June 16, 2015 4:41 pm

Big-box retailers’ new tactic to slash their taxes is the latest example of why cities are better off saying no to the boxes and cultivating Main Streets instead.


In February, the library in Marquette, Mich., announced that it was cutting its hours.

It wasn’t that its Sunday programming was any less popular, or that it had gotten the short end of the stick in next year’s budget planning. Instead, thanks to a new method that big-box stores are using to game the tax system, Marquette Township owed a $755,828.71 tax refund to the home improvement chain Lowe’s. Essential services like the library, the school district, and the fire department were on the hook to pay for it.

The Peter White Public Library would now be closed on Sundays.

Marquette has been hit hard by a tactic that the country’s biggest retailers are using to slash their property taxes. Known as the “dark store” method, it exemplifies the systematic way that these chains extract money from local governments. It’s also the latest example of the way that, even as local governments across the country continue to bend over backwards to attract and accommodate big-box development, these stores are consistently a terrible deal for the towns and cities where they locate.

Marquette is one of the countless places that has bought into big-box economic development. Over the years, the township in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan spent millions extending water mains, law enforcement, and other infrastructure and services to its big-box commercial corridor along U.S. 41. When the Lowe’s opened there in 2008, local officials including the mayor turned out for a “board-cutting” ceremony—the home improvement center version of a ribbon-cutting.

Then, less than two years later, Lowe’s flipped the script. The mega-retailer, which reports annual net sales of about $50 billion, went to tax court to appeal its property tax assessment. Marquette had pegged the taxable value of the store, which had just been built for $10 million, at $5.2 million. In front of the Michigan Tax Tribunal, an administrative court whose members are appointed by the state governor, Lowe’s won assessments that were, instead, $2.4 million in 2010, $2 million in 2011, and $1.5 million in 2012.

“We honestly thought there had been a mistake,” says Dulcee Atherton, the assessor for Marquette Township. “We had the building permits that said it was worth $10 million. We couldn’t believe the audacity, really.”

What was worse was the methodology that Lowe’s, and the tax tribunal, had used to arrive at the lower figures. (more…)[1]

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Treaties, Trade Agreements and Government by the People

by David Morris | June 15, 2015 3:49 pm

For much of our history, trade agreements were considered treaties. According to the Constitution they had to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The House does not participate in ratification of treaties (Article II, Section 2).

By the late 19th century Congress realized it was far too cumbersome to require a Congressional vote to change individual tariffs, so they delegated to the President the authority to use tariffs as a flexible tool in the exercise of foreign policy.

In the 1970s trade agreements stopped focusing on tariffs and began addressing an increasingly broad group of rules (e.g. procurement, copyrights and patents, product standards, subsidies, environmental standards) called non-tariff trade barriers. Modern multi-faceted trade pacts have more to do with pre-empting national, state and local rules that could favor communities or regional economies or domestic businesses or the environment than with lowering tariffs.

Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution gives Congress a little wiggle room by making a distinction between “treaties” and “agreements”. Congress can change the ratification process for agreements. But it is highly probable that the Constitution’s Framers would have expected Congress to do so only with respect to agreements of limited importance.

In 1974 Congress made clear it thought otherwise. That year Congress acquiesced to a dramatic reduction in its and by extension the citizenry’s authority over trade rules. Under the new procedure the President was allowed to unilaterally negotiate the final terms of a trade agreement. He would then present the final agreement to Congress, which would be unable to change it in any way and would have a limited time for debate. Instead of requiring ratification by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, trade pacts would require only a simple majority from both chambers.

In 1993 Congress ratified the far-reaching North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) under the new fast track provisions. NAFTA not only limited national and state sovereignty over a variety of issues but it also established for the first time what has come be known as investor state dispute settlement procedures. Corporations, rather than only governments would have the right to sue. And they could sue for loss of potential profits. And they would do so via a new extra-territorial judicial system that favors commerce over community and corporations over governments.

The NAFTA vote was close: 234-200. Three-quarters of Democrats voting against while 80 percent of Republicans voted in favor. The ratification process of NAFTA was challenged in federal courts, but the courts rejected[1] the challenge, ruling in essence that Congress can at its discretion decide when a treaty is not a treaty and can make the process for ratification as undemocratic as it sees fit.

The authority to pursue fast track expired in 2007. But in December 2009, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), on behalf of the President, notified[2] the country that the President intended to enter into negotiations for a regional, Asia-Pacific trade agreement as if that authority continued to apply.  

Today the President is asking Congress to ratify his illegal use of the fast track.

Last week, after the House overwhelmingly rejected a trade assistance act that was formally tied to the approval of fast track authority it passed a standalone fast track bill by a tiny majority of 219-211. Eighty-five percent of Democrats voted against while 78 percent of Republicans voted in favor.

As Paul Ryan (R-WI) has noted[3], “We’re not talking about passing a trade agreement right now. TPP is still being negotiated. It doesn’t exist yet as an agreement. We’re talking about whether we can even consider a trade agreement…” Representative Ryan is correct that Congress is not voting on TPP. But he’s wrong that if fast track fails Congress will be unable to “even consider a trade agreement”. Of course it can. The question before Congress right now is about how transparent and democratic that consideration will be.

We the people would like it to be as transparent and democratic as possible. Public opinion[4] consistently favors trade but just as consistently solidly opposes fast track. We oppose the remarkable, indeed unprecedented secrecy in which the trade pact has been drafted and the inability of the average citizen, unlike giant corporations, to play a part in that drafting. We condemn the prohibition against changing the document in any way after submission.

And perhaps most of all we are furious about fast track’s foreclosure of extensive and intensive debate on a complex document of far reaching consequence.

If fast track fails the President can still submit a trade bill. And we can then launch a much needed and long overdue national conversation about the benefits and limitations of trade and the dangers of ceding sovereignty to a new international constitution whose goal is to limit democracy and expand corpocracy.







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Watch: Dear Hawaii – Read Your Mail Before Your Utility Sells Out

by John Farrell | June 12, 2015 2:50 pm

placeholder[1]If your electricity—generated from imported oil—is the most expensive in the country and your solar resource is terrific, you’d expect your electric company to be making great strides toward renewable energy. On Hawai’i, the progress toward clean energy is in limbo, because island’s largest electric utility—largely owned by islanders—is likely to be acquired by mainland utility conglomerate NextEra, parent company of another regulated utility, Florida Power and Light.

Should Hawaiians accede to the wishes of NextEra and sell their largest electric utility to off-islanders?

These postcards from Florida (inspired by a campaign by Vote Solar[2]) shine a little light on what Hawaiians can expect from their proposed utility overlord.

For more on the takeover, check out ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy commentary[3] during the Maui Energy Conference, ILSR’s 2012 report—Hawaiian Sunblock[4]—on the unexpected barriers to low-cost solar on the islands, Vote Solar’s Postcards from Florida campaign[5], and the continuing coverage[6] of the utility acquisition on Utility Dive.

This article originally posted at[7]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[8] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[9] update.

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Expert thwarts progress of pro-incineration bill in Philippines

by Neil Seldman | June 11, 2015 11:51 am

The Philippines is the only country that has banned garbage incineration. Constant vigilance is required to keep it that way. The following press release from the Ecowaste Coalition[1] explains the role of Dr. Jorge Emmanuel in presenting to the Philippines’ Congress.

An environmental scientist told pro-incineration representatives during a committee meeting that burning wastes is bad, foiling a pro-incineration bill’s passage by the body.   “There is no such thing as clean incineration. They all produce pollutants,” Dr. Jorge Emmanuel said on Tuesday, during Philippines House of Representative’s Committee on Ecology meeting on House Bill No. 3161, authored by Caloocan City Representative Edgar Erice.

The Erice bill, which was hoping to move up to the plenary level, was instead sent back to the technical working group on incineration for further discussion. (more…)[2]

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LD 1185 Advances in Maine With Overwhelming Support

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 9, 2015 11:57 pm

On June 5th, the Main House of Representatives voted 143 – 0 in favor of LD 1185[1], the Maine bill to provide state planning and implementation grants for local municipal networks. Representative Norm Higgins, the sponsor of the bill, contacted us to let us know about the incredible support for the bill.

LD 1185 proposes to provide $6 million this year for local communities seeking to establish networks that want to take advantage of the state’s middle-mile network, the Three Ring Binder. The House amended the bill to include general goals for the fund and its purpose in bringing better connectivity to Maine.

The amendment also creates specifications between planning and implementation grants and establishes caps on awards. Planning grants cannot exceed $25,000 and implementation grants cannot exceed $200,000. Implementation grants require a 25 percent match from the requesting municipality; planning grants require a one-to-one match. The amendment is available online[2].

Now that the House has put their stamp of approval on the bill, it is up to the Maine Senate to  approve the measure and send it on to the Governor. According to Higgins, it appears to have strong bipartisan support; funding is the only area of uncertainty. He anticipates it will be before the Appropriations Committee within the next two weeks.

This article is apart of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[3]

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ALEC in Savannah: Local News Video Exposes the Corrupt Process of Lawmaking

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 5, 2015 3:38 pm

We have reported on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the past and stories about ALEC sponsored legislative retreats pop up in the news on a regulary basis. Most recently, NBC Channel 11 from Atlanta reported on[1] the shadowy world of big corporate influence in Georgia.

None of this will be new to anyone familiar with ALEC’s shadowy way of doing business, but having it on video makes it more compelling.

Brendan Keefe visited Savannah and tried to observe one of these meetings between ALEC corporate members and state legislators. Even though Keefe and his crew had an official press pass, they were blocked from entering the meeting.

Keefe spoke with a Georgia State Senator Nan Orrock, who once belonged to ALEC. She told him about the meetings, paid for with ALEC funds or “legislator scholarships,” and pointed out the true nature of the closed door gatherings:

It’s really a corporate bill mill…the truth be told, they write the bills.

Even though Keefe was not able to attend one of the meetings, he did encounter a legislator and several lobbyists in the bar the night before. They didn’t mind describing what they were doing in Savannah and who paid the bill. Watch the brief expose below.

We also include a 2013 Real News video with Branden Fischer from the Center for Media and Democracy. He goes more indepth on ALEC’s modus operandi and its membership.

See video[2]
See video[3]

This article is apart of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[4]

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Report: Public Rooftop Revolution

by John Farrell | June 1, 2015 4:31 am

[1]5 gigs municipal solar[2]There are a lot of stories on residential rooftop solar but few if any on what cities are doing to make themselves energy self-reliant by using their own buildings and lands to generate power.

In Public Rooftop Revolution, ILSR estimates that mid-sized cities could install as much as 5,000 megawatts of solar—as much as one-quarter of all solar installed in the U.S. to date—on municipal property, with little to no upfront cash. It would allow cities to redirect millions in saved energy costs to other public purposes.

Download the full report[3]

Read the Executive Summary[4]

Read Part 1 of the report[5]

Read Part 2 of the report[6]

Read Part 3 of the report[7]

Read Part 4 of the report[8]

Read the full report in (poorly formatted) ePub[9] or Kindle[10] format

Podcast Conversations:

Lancaster, CA city manager Jason Caudle, listen to the podcast, read the interview summary[11].

Raleigh, NC renewable energy coordinator Robert Hinson, listen to the podcast, read the interview summary[12].

Kansas City project manager Charles Harris, listen to the podcast, read the interview summary[13].

Executive Summary

In 2012, ILSR published a pair of reports[14] that projected, by 2021,10% of electricity in the U.S. could come from solar and at a lower price—without subsidies—than utility-provided electricity. In 2014 and 2015, Environment America’s Shining Cities reports examined how cities were catalysts for solar development.

However, there has been a missing piece in the examination of how cities can support solar energy: what city leaders have done and can do to use solar on their own buildings.

ILSR estimates that over 5,000 megawatts (MW) of solar could be inexpensively installed almost immediately on municipal property—more than a quarter of the nationwide total solar capacity through September 2014. This includes just the municipal buildings of the approximately 200 cities with 100,000 or greater population. But it requires city officials to overcome a few, surmountable barriers.

The Public Rooftop Solar Opportunity

The opportunity of municipal solar spans financial savings, pollution reductions, and job creation:

Energy Savings: New Bedford, MA, is saving $6 to $7 million per year on electricity through its 16 MW of solar installations on municipal properties, which is 2.5% of the entire city budget.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions: Maximizing New York City’s solar potential with 410 MW of solar would reduce emissions by 1.78 million metric tons, 3.7% of the city’s total emissions.

Significant Economic Impact: Maximizing Kansas City’s municipal solar potential of 70 MW could create 1400 jobs and add $175 million to the local economy.

Overcoming the Economic Barrier with 3rd Parties

The primary incentive for solar is the 30% federal tax credit, a deal that doesn’t apply to local governments[15]. The federal government also provides accelerated depreciation for solar projects, resulting in a tax write-off worth nearly another 30% of a project’s value. The following charts illustrates how the limitations of federal incentives make the economics more challenging for municipally-owned solar. 

Although cities face a number of challenges, economic and otherwise, to installing solar, the third party ownership option—if available—ought to trump most of them. For suitable sites that won’t need a near-term roof replacement, third party ownership removes virtually all of the financial barriers to solar, and covers maintenance and operations. While some barriers (like lack of aggregate or virtual net metering) remain, most cities have a substantial solar opportunity.


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Adam Smith vs. Ayn Rand

by David Morris | May 29, 2015 3:44 pm

In a 2011 CNN/Tea Party Express Republican Debate moderator Wolf Blitzer famously asked[1] prominent libertarian Representative Ron Paul a “hypothetical question” about the soon-to-be-operational Obamacare: What should be done when a 30-year old man decides not to buy health insurance and then requires significant medical intervention that he cannot afford? Paul predictably responded. He should “assume responsibility for himself…That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks…”

Blitzer followed up by asking Paul if he meant, “society should just let him die?” Members of the audience yelled, “Yeah”. It was a Tea Party meeting after all. Paul waffled. He conceded intervention might be necessary but insisted the cost should be borne voluntarily by “(o)ur neighbors, our friends, our churches.”

Now Obamacare is in place. The hypothetical has become real. In the last few weeks we’ve learned of at least two Republicans who refused to buy health insurance and then launched GoFundMe initiatives when they encountered medical difficulties.

In November 2014 self-employed Richard Mack’s wife was hospitalized and then in early January he himself suffered a heart attack. His son launched a GoFundMe[2] campaign. “It is difficult and humbling to say that we need your help but we do.” He’s raised $45,000 so far toward a $60,000 goal from a little over 1,000 donors.

Mack’s opposition to Obamacare is political. A former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona he is the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group he described[3] as “the army to set our nation free”. He serves on the board of Oath Keepers, a right-wing group made up of police and military veterans. He’s been an outspoken opponent not only of the American Care Act (ACA) but of all federal authority. “The States do not have to take or support or pay for Obamacare or anything else from Washington, DC,” says[4] Mack. “The States are not subject to federal direction.”

More widely reported is the case of Luis Lang, a 49-year-old self-employed resident of Fort Mill, South Carolina who always prided himself on paying his own medical expenses. He suffered a series of mini strokes earlier this year and ended up with bleeding in the eyes, a partially detached retina and a need for very expensive medical care to save his eyesight. He’s been out of work since December. His GoFundMe[5] campaign has raised $26,000 toward a $30,000 goal from over 1300 donors.

Ron Paul might view Richard Mack’s situation as a perfect example of his libertarian philosophy. He chose not to buy insurance. He now needs financial assistance. His family and friends have rallied to his support, largely because of his political activities. One donor wrote, “Thank you for your sacrifice in the fight for our freedom.” Another said, “Keep up the fight and with the full armour (sic) of God we will prevail. Thanks be to God for your stand for freedom and for not giving in to the Obama care demands.” Another commented, “May God continue to watch over you and bless all that you do for this nation under siege.” And another declared, “Thanks for never surrendering to federal tyranny.”

To me, however, Lang’s case is more instructive. Lang is not a public figure. He’s not a political rallying point. Moreover, his is a case study in personal irresponsibility. He is a long time smoker who has been lax in controlling his diabetes. He knew that his eyes needed serious medical attention for some time.

When the Charlotte Observer first wrote[6] about Lang he was angry at Obamacare. When confronted with significant medical expenses he tried to sign up but discovered enrollment had closed a month earlier. He is now poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but South Carolina’s Republican controlled legislature has refused to expand Medicaid. Nevertheless, his wife Mary said, “(My husband) should be at the front of the line, because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues.”

Lang was asking for help primarily from strangers who didn’t know who he was. Revealingly, a significant majority of those who gave were self-described liberals[7], according to Charles Gaba. One donor wrote, “The party of personal responsibility (has) left you hanging on your own consequences. Progressives like me think that’s just cruel.” Another disclosed, “From a first generation immigrant Communist. Good luck brother.” Another reflected, “From a godless liberal feminist but my 89 y/o dad has macular degeneration and so my heart goes out to anyone who’s having vision trouble.” Still another pointed out, “Sir, I know if the shoe was on the other food you would expect me to ‘pull myself up by my own boot straps” and wouldn’t contribute. But I’m compassionate and think we all owe something to each other.” Another commented, “I want to say something clever and sassy about your right wing stupidity, but all I can feel is compassion. I hope you get the medical care you need.” And still another observed, “I too am a bleeping liberal who thinks no one should suffer due to bad choices, bad luck, or bad policies of conservative dogma.”

After reviewing the comments, Lang reflected on his GoFundMe page, “I have to give a big thumbs up to the liberal side. Even though you have crucified me in your comments but you spoke with your heart with donations…As far as the conservative side I wish they would step up to the plate and do there (sic) part.”

Which brings us to the crux of the debate about Obamacare or any government sponsored health insurance. Conservatives, circa 2015 do not believe it is their obligation to help. Lang made his choice and he must live with the consequences. The modern day conservative’s guru is Ayn Rand, who viewed compassion as inherently dehumanizing, an emotion that, if acted upon, diminishes the self. “Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others…” she declared[8]. “The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction….” (more…)[9]

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North Carolina Files Petition Opposing FCC Ruling to End Anti-Muni Laws

by Lisa Gonzalez | May 22, 2015 10:34 am

It took a while, but the State of North Carolina finally decided to take its turn at the throat of the FCC. Attorneys filed a Petition for Review in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals similar to the one filed by the State of Tennessee[1] in March. The Petition is available for download[2] below.

Our official comment:

“Attorney General Cooper must not realize the irony of using state taxpayer dollars to ensure less money is invested in rural broadband, but we certainly do,” says Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “State leaders should stand up for their citizens’ interests and demand good broadband for them, rather than fighting alongside paid lobbyists to take away those opportunities.”

Like Tennessee, North Carolina makes an attempt to stop the FCC’s well-considered Opinion and Order by arguing that the FCC overstepped its authority in violation of the Consitution. The FCC addressed this argument in its Opinion and Order along with a myriad of other potential arguments. For detailed coverage of the FCC’s well-considered decision, we provided information on highlights[3]of the decision back in March.

According to WRAL[4], Wilson is taking the new development in stride:

The City of Wilson was not surprised that North Carolina sued.

“We are aware of the suit,” said Will Aycock, who manages the Greenlight network. “We knew that this would be an ongoing process.”

The Attorney general’s has not contacted Wilson about the suit, he added.

We have to wonder if North Carolina is a bit[5] embarrassed in arguing that rural areas should not be allowed to build their own networks even as the metro regions in Charlotte and the Triangle are seeing gigabit investment. State elected officials in North Carolina seem committed to two-tier Internet access: fast for the metro and stiflingly slow in rural regions.

“Wilson filed this petition [last year to restore local authority] not with immediate plans to expand into its rural neighboring communities, but to facilitate the future advancement of its critical Gigabit fiber-optic[6] infrastructure over the long term.”…Wilson does not expect to incur any legal costs related to the North Carolina suit, Aycock said. “We told our story,” he explained.

Unfortunately, this is another example of big telecom dollars asserting influence over  state leaders. Wilson’s Greenlight has proven itself over and over again to be an economic development tool[7], a way for the municipality to save precious public dollars, and an agent to encourage better connectivity for citizens[8].

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ILSR Seeks Recycling and Economic Development Specialist

by Neil Seldman | May 18, 2015 3:32 pm

The Waste to Wealth Initiative of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is looking to fill a full time, associate-level position. The job involves developing recycling, composting and reuse enterprises throughout the US.

The associate will be responsible for assisting local governments, small businesses and community develop organizations develop viable value added enterprises and policies that nurture such enterprises.  The job involves being responsible for representing ILSR’s Waste to Wealth Initiative within regional, national and international networks.

Full job description and information on how to apply here[1].

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Obama’s Advance Team Should Be Fired

by David Morris | May 18, 2015 11:08 am

The Obamas are proving singularly inept at choosing appropriate venues to highlight their initiatives.

In June 2011 Michelle invited giant retailers, including Walmart to the White House to launch her effort to persuade the country’s largest retailers to move into inner city “food deserts.” She later visited a Walmart in Springfield, Illinois to applaud its corporate expansion into urban areas. My colleague at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Stacy Mitchell chided[1] Ms. Obama, “If you were to rank the factors that have contributed to the disappearance of neighborhood grocery stores over the last two decades, Walmart would be a pretty formidable contender for the top spot.”

Walmart has captured[2] 25 percent of the nation’s grocery market and in 29 metropolitan areas commands a 50 percent share. It has almost saturated rural and suburban America and now wants to massively move into urban areas. That is not sitting well with many of its targeted neighborhoods. Ms. Obama’s advance team should have been aware that a vigorous, sustained protest against Walmart moving into a historic downtown neighborhood was ongoing in Springfield.   Only a few days before Ms. Obama’s visit the City Council ultimately approved the Walmart by a vote of 5-4. The outcome may have been less an endorsement of Walmart than an effort to avoid embarrassing Michelle.

Mitchell noted that 1400 small and independent food stores had opened between 2002 and 2011, many of them serving inner city neighborhoods. “Independent grocers should have been at the center of this announcement,” she insisted[3]. “After all, independent food retailers, including co-ops and farmers markets, have been instrumental in the success of the only program so far to make a real dent in the problem (affordable, nutritious food in inner cities) the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing initiative. Of the 93 stores created or expanded by the initiative to date, almost all are independently or cooperatively owned.”

Ironically, 8 months after Ms. Obama praised Walmart for bringing affordable food to Springfield, a Walmart in Ohio was discovered collecting food donations for its own employees. Walmart workers survive in large part because their inadequate pay is supplemented by public benefits (e.g. food stamps, welfare, Medicaid). A May 2013 report by the Democrat staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce estimated[4] these benefits cost taxpayers $3015 per worker, or about $1.50 an hour for a full time employee.

Under extreme public pressure and to ward off unionization, Walmart recently announced it is boosting wages by about $1 per hour for about a third of its US workforce. In 2013 Stephen Gandel of Fortune magazine calculated[5] Walmart could have increased salaries by more than $5 per hour without negatively affecting its stock price.

Walmart not only pays its own workers little; it drives down domestic wages overall or forces domestic suppliers to relocate abroad by compelling them to match prices offered by low wage foreign suppliers.

While the workers suffer, the Walton family, owners of 50 percent of Walmart stock have become the poster children of inequality. In 2014 the family received[6] dividends of about $3 billion, three times the cost of Walmart’s recent modest wage increase. Since 2007 the six heirs to Walmart’s cofounders Sam and Bud Walton have seen their wealth[7] more than double to $148.8 billion. They now earn as much as 42 percent of American families combined!

In mid 2013 President Obama flew to an Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga, Tennessee to celebrate that company’s creation of middle class jobs. It was a bizarre choice. His advance team must have known of the increasingly public infamy of Amazon warehouses. In 2011 reporter Spencer Soper in the Allentown newspaper the Morning Call, described[8] the brutal working conditions at Amazon’s Allentown, Pennsylvania warehouse during the early summer of 2011. Fifteen workers had collapsed from heat exhaustion. “Calls to the local ambulance service became so frequent that for five hot days in June and July, ambulances and paramedics were stationed all day at the depot.” Amazon apparently found it cheaper to pay for ambulances than to install air conditioning. A 2012 story in the Seattle Times described[9] a similar Dickensian situation at Amazon’s Campbellsville, Kentucky warehouse.

Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos not only believe they owe nothing to their workers; they insist they owe nothing to the country. In an interview[10] with Fast Company, Bezos confessed he had “investigated whether we could set up on an Indian reservation near San Francisco.”  The idea was to get “access to talent without all the tax consequences.”  He ended up setting up shop in Seattle, a state with no sales tax. And for almost 20 years he took advantage of a loophole in the law that allowed him to avoid paying sales tax for online purchases, giving Amazon a 6-8 percent price advantage over Main Street stores right out of the gate. As for paying corporate taxes Jim Hightower comments[11], “Through a convoluted system of inter-corporate payments, a major portion of Amazon’s global revenue is funneled into the tiny Grand Duchy of Luxembourg[12]. There, its tax rate is shriveled to barely five percent!”

A few weeks ago President Obama hit the trifecta for maladroit event planning when he made a speech promoting an expansion of unregulated trade at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon.

Nike is infamous for having pioneered the massive corporate outsourcing of middle class jobs to low wage countries. Only 1 percent of its workforce resides in the United States while almost a million workers are in low wage countries. Nike continues to hemorrhage domestic jobs. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich reports that in 2014 a third of Nike’s remaining 13,922 Americans production workers were laid off.

When wages rose in China Nike switched most of its production to Vietnam, where wages[13] are a third what they are in China. In April, after Vietnam approved a modest 15 percent wage hike, foreign and local companies reportedly warned[14] that any further wage hikes should be considered “very carefully” in order not to undermine the competitiveness of the Vietnamese economy.

About the same time that Obama was standing in Nike’s headquarters the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, issued a report[15] condemning Nike’s labor practices. The report’s author Charles Kernaghan observes[16], “Let’s be honest. For years, Nike has been exploiting the 330,000 Vietnamese workers, mostly young women, who are poorly paid and denied their most fundamental rights.” He likens Nike to “the canary in the coal mine…pointing us to what unfettered ‘free trade’ looks like, and what the world will look like under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”

Kernaghan told[17] the Huffington Post, “The fact that President Obama would … be at the side of Nike just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

No it doesn’t. Nor does it make sense that the President and the First Lady would commend Amazon for creating middle class jobs or Walmart for bringing groceries to urban neighborhoods. Not if workers and communities matter to them as much as they do to those who won the White House for them.

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Video Available: Connecticut Gigabit State Event

by Lisa Gonzalez | May 10, 2015 10:38 am

On May 5th, Christopher participated in a panel conversation presented by the City of New Haven and the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel. Video of the event,Moving Towards A Gigabit State: Planning & Financing Municipal Ultra-High-Speed Internet Fiber Networks Through Public-Private Partnerships, is now available.

You can watch it from the Connecticut Network website[1]. The final panel has, in order of appearance, Bill Vallee, Joanne Hovis, Christopher, Monica Webb, and Jim Baller. It begins around 3:18 and Christopher begins his presentation at 3:36. The entire video is approximately 4 hours, 30 minutes.

The event included a number of experts from the industry. From the event announcement:

A conversation on the “Nuts and Bolts” of Internet Fiber Networks targeting municipal officials and other public officials to provide information for municipalities interested in creating ultra-high-speed networks. The networks would be created via public-private partnerships through Connecticut to enable innovations in areas such as health care, education, business development and jobs creation, and public safety.

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How Washington Punishes Small Business

by Stacy Mitchell | May 8, 2015 10:09 am

This article, by Stacy Mitchell and Fred Clements, was first published as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal[1].

Small business looms large in American political rhetoric. From the campaign trail to the floor of the U.S. House and Senate, members of Congress love to evoke the diner and dry cleaner, the neighborhood grocer and local hardware store. Ensuring the well-being of Main Street, we might easily assume, is one of their central policy aims.

The legislative track record tells another story. It is one in which the interests of big corporations are dominant, and many laws and regulations seem designed to bend the marketplace in their favor and put small, independent businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Since the late 1990s, the overall market share of firms with fewer than 100 employees has fallen from 33% to 28%, according to U.S. Census data. There are nearly 80,000 fewer small retailers today than in 1999. Starting a new business also appears to have become harder. Despite their prominence in our tech-fueled imagination, the number of startups created annually fell by about 20% between the 1970s and the 2000s, Census data shows.

Dismissing these trends as merely the product of market forces misses the powerful way that government policy has tilted the playing field.

A report last month by the research organization Good Jobs First, for example, found that two-thirds of the $68 billion in business grants and special tax credits awarded by the federal government over the past 15 years went to big corporations. State and local economic development incentives are similarly skewed. While the members of our business associations—mostly independent retailers—must finance their own growth, one of their biggest competitors, Amazon, has received $330 million in tax breaks and other subsidies to fund its new warehouses. Indiana, for example, gave the company a $5 million tax credit to open a distribution center in 2009.

Multinational companies also benefit from a host of tax loopholes. A local pharmacy or bike shop cannot stash profits in a Bermuda shell company or undertake a foreign “inversion.” The result is that small businesses pay an effective federal tax rate that is several points higher on average than that paid by big companies, according to a Small Business Administration study from 2009.

At a time when price competition is fierce and margins razor thin, these cost differences have a real impact on the ability of small businesses to survive. Yet efforts to reform corporate subsidies and close tax loopholes have gone nowhere.

Congress’s tacit support for further consolidation in the banking system is also undermining small independent businesses. From our perspective, local community banks are the most important part of the financial system, because they supply the lion’s share of small business loans. Yet Congress hasn’t lifted a finger as more than 500 have collapsed since 2008, according to federal data, swept away by the aftermath of a financial crisis they didn’t create. (more…)[2]

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One in Four Local Banks Has Vanished since 2008. Here’s What’s Causing the Decline and Why We Should Treat It as a National Crisis.

by Stacy Mitchell | May 5, 2015 3:43 pm

Here’s a statistic that ought to alarm anyone interested in rebuilding local economies and redirecting the flow of capital away from Wall Street and toward more productive ends: Over the last seven years, one of every four community banks has disappeared. We have 1,971 fewer of these small, local financial institutions today than at the beginning of 2008. Some 500 failed outright, with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) stepping in to pay their depositors. Most of the rest were acquired and absorbed into bigger banks.

To illustrate this disturbing trend and highlight a few of the reasons we should treat it as a national crisis, we’ve published a trove of new graphs[1]. These provide a startling look at the pace of change and its implications. In 1995, megabanks — giant banks with more than $100 billion in assets (in 2010 dollars) — controlled 17 percent of all banking assets. By 2005, their share had reached 41 percent. Today, it is a staggering 59 percent[2]. Meanwhile, the share of the market held by community banks and credit unions — local institutions with less than $1 billion in assets — plummeted from 27 percent to 11 percent. You can watch this transformation unfold in our 90-second video[3], which shows how four massive banks — Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo — have come to dominate the sector, each growing larger than all of the nation’s community banks put together.

“If we continue to go down this path, we’ll kill this concept of relationship banking,” contends Rebeca Romera Rainey, the third-generation CEO of Centinel Bank[4] in Taos, New Mexico. Like other community banks, Centinel makes lending decisions based on its relationships with its customers and deep knowledge of the local market. It underwrites a wide range of business loans and home mortgages to local families. Many of these borrowers would likely not qualify for big-bank financing because they do not fit neatly into the standardized formulas megabanks use to evaluate their risk of default. (more…)[5]

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Charles Benton, Champion of the Public Interest in Telecom, Passes

by Lisa Gonzalez | May 1, 2015 10:58 am

The world of media education, communication policy, and philanthropy is mourning the loss of Charles Benton who passed away on April 29. He lived a long life encouraging and empowering individuals and communities to use technology to improve their quality of life. But beyond that, specifically working to remove barriers that discourage historically marginalized communities from benefiting from communications technologies.

In addition to serving on the National Museum and Library Services Board for the Obama Administration, Charles advised President Bill Clinton as a member of the Parental Advisory Committee on the Public Interest Obligation of Digital Television Broadcasters.

He also served his country as Chairman of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) and as Chairman of the First White House Conference on Library and Information Services, held in November of 1979. He continued to serve on the NCLIS for another five years, during which time he was unanimously elected Chairman Emeritus.

He and his wife, Marjorie, established the Benton Foundation in honor of his father, William, a public servant and U.S. Senator.

These are only a few of his many accomplishments. Throughout his life, Charles Benton shined the spotlight on the link between communications, media, education, and democracy. To learn more about his life and his achievements, read his obituary[1] on the Benton Foundation website.

This from Chris:

We are deeply saddened at Charles’ passing but incredibly inspired by his life. Every time we interacted with Charles, we came away with fresh energy to work in this space. I cannot think of a time when he wasn’t smiling during our conversations — his passion and optimism will carry on.

Charles Benton, and support from the Benton Foundation, were instrumental in our ability to publish Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks[2]. The report is an in-depth look at the municipal fiber optic networks in Chattanooga, TN, Lafayette, LA, and Bristol, VA.

We miss you, Charles.

Photo of Charles Benton from the Benton Foundation

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Public Officials Must Say No to Amazon’s Request for Tax Breaks

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 30, 2015 10:48 am

This piece was written by ILSR’s Olivia LaVecchia, and first ran as an op-ed[1] in the Star Tribune.

The news that Amazon wants to expand its footprint in Minnesota — but only if it wins significant public subsidies — should put both taxpayers and public officials on high alert.

Amazon is seeking about $5 million in tax breaks to build a new distribution center in Shakopee, not including the costs of significant upgrades to infrastructure and roads. In announcing the project, Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke heralded the news as “economic development.”

If economic development means quality new jobs and a stronger economy, then the research suggests that subsidizing Amazon’s warehouse would result in just the opposite.

Amazon is a master at getting money out of local governments. A December 2014 report from Good Jobs First, a nonprofit research group that tracks public subsidies, found that Amazon has won $419 million in subsidies from local and state governments. Amazon is big enough that it doesn’t actually need tax breaks to finance its expansion, which means that these subsidies serve mainly to increase its profit and enlarge private wealth, like the $30.5 billion fortune of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

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The benefits of public solid waste services: Lessons for Toronto

by Neil Seldman | April 29, 2015 10:46 am

Public municipal solid waste services are fundamental to the quality of life in our communities. How we collect and dispose of our garbage and recycling is essential to our health, our environmental future and the appearance of our cities and towns.

Landfills are reaching the end of their lifespan, and carry a high financial and environmental price. Extended producer responsibility legislation and a decline in the market price of recyclables add to the pressure on municipalities struggling to deliver high-quality, affordable public services.

In order to meet these challenges, it is vital that municipalities retain accountability, flexibility and control when it comes to their solid waste services. Publicly-delivered services are efficient, committed to service and environmental sustainability, and accountable to the public.

Read the full story here[1] from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, March 27, 2015

  1. Read the full story here:

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Update on Digital Rights

by Neil Seldman | April 21, 2015 6:06 pm

Do citizens and businesses have a right to repair their computers and related products? ILSR asked Sophia MacDonald to describe the efforts of Digital Right to Repair Coalition[1] (DRTR) to secure these rights for consumers.    See ILSR’s story, Repair & re-sell: Do you have the right to fix your own gadgets? [2]

New York State’s pro-repair legislation is under consideration (S3998 and A6068) . It can be a game changer by influencing other states to undertake similar legislation which reduces costs, increases repair and reuse of machines and reduces the environmental footprint of the electronics sector. Repair and non-profit enterprises also helps bridge the digital divide in the US by making powerful machines available to low income schools, organizations, families and individuals.

New Yorker’s Can Take Action: Tell Your State Legislators to Support S 3998 and A6068[3]

Digital Right to Repair Coalition focuses on all products which include digital electronic parts. Kyle Wiens penned this piece[4] not only to promote DMCA Exemption requests filed in support of tractor repair, but also to promote Fair Repair Bills (NY and MN) and several new bills presented in Congress.  This is all part of the Coalition’s strategy.

Another story from Wired Magazine –  We Can’t Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership [5]

  1. Digital Right to Repair Coalition: http:/
  2. Repair & re-sell: Do you have the right to fix your own gadgets? :
  3. Tell Your State Legislators to Support S 3998 and A6068:
  4. penned this piece:
  5. We Can’t Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership :

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Small Business Lending by Size of Institution, 2014

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 20, 2015 12:39 pm

placeholder[1]In 2014, community-based financial institutions made 60 percent of all small business loans, even though they controlled only 24 percent of banking assets. For more detail on why small banks do so much more small business lending, see our article, “Banks and Small Business Lending[2].”

Chart: Share of Loans Made to Small Businesses, 2014.[3]

Chart: Bank market share, 2014.[4]

  1. [Image]:
  2. Banks and Small Business Lending:
  3. [Image]:
  4. [Image]:

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Just How Concentrated Is Our Banking Sector? [Video]

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 20, 2015 12:07 pm


As a result of changes in regulations and public policy, over the past 20 years, giant banks have devoured the banking sector. This 90-second video shows just how concentrated the banking industry has become.


  1. [Image]:

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Testimony to Congress: Overhaul Federal Policy to Support Strong Local Economies

by Stacy Mitchell | April 16, 2015 4:55 pm

This week, I had the opportunity to share ILSR’s research with members of Congress at a hearing[1] organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  The forum, chaired by Representatives Keith Ellison and Raúl Grijalva, focused on how federal contracting and other forms of financial support for business should be overhauled to reflect American values and build the kind of economy we need.  The hearing featured perspectives from both low-wage workers and independent businesses.

As I noted in my testimony, much of federal policy now works to bend the marketplace in favor of big corporations, putting both workers and small businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Federal subsidies,  tax credits, loan guarantees, and other public benefits skew heavily in favor of large, low-wage corporations over responsible small businesses.

I highlighted one opportunity in particular for reform: loan guarantees provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  Over the last ten years, the SBA has backed loans to over 30,000 retail and fast food franchises, like Quiznos and Subway.  Not only do these outlets often pay rock-bottom wages, but the local entrepreneurs who ostensibly own these businesses generally have very little control over them and forfeit much of the revenue to the franchise parent company.   Worse, more than one in four of these businesses failed, leaving both the local owner and the SBA on the hook, while the franchise parent company made off with sizable profits and no liability for the default.

The eligibility criteria for SBA loan guarantees, ILSR believes, should be revised to eliminate support for low-wage franchises and instead expand lending for independent businesses that contribute to the well-being of their communities.

Watch a video with excerpts from this testimony here[2].

Testimony of Stacy Mitchell
Co-Director, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Ad Hoc Hearing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus
April 15, 2015

Good afternoon, Congressman Grijalva, Congressman Ellison, and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. (more…)[3]

  1. hearing:
  2. here:
  3. (more…):

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Can Other Cities Match Georgetown’s Low-Cost Switch to 100% Wind and Sun?

by John Farrell | April 14, 2015 2:02 pm

This is probably not the first place you’ve read about Georgetown, TX, the town of 55,000 that will be getting the equivalent of 100% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2017. But few articles hit upon the two key reasons Georgetown was able to make this move when so many other cities with abundant renewable resources (e.g. Tucson, AZ[1]) are stuck with a majority-coal-fired electricity supply.

If cities had these keys, many could obtain 100% renewable energy at a surprisingly low cost.

Key #1: Local Ownership

Just 1 in 7 Americans gets their electricity from one of about 2,000 municipal utilities, but these locally controlled utilities allow a community to chart its own electric future. It’s the key behind Palo Alto’s surge toward carbon neutral electricity[2], toward Austin’s 35% renewable by 2020 goal[3], and Sacramento’s ability to pursue a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by 2050[4].

Unfortunately, this local self-determination isn’t enough, because there are many other municipal utilities with only a pittance of renewable energy on their grid system. And that leads to…

Key #2: No Contracts

The Georgetown municipal utility closed its last power plant in 1945, and has contracted with third parties to provide electricity ever since. With the expiration of its major supply contract in 2012[5], it was free to sign new contracts. This freedom is what has allowed other utilities like tiny Farmers Electric Cooperative in Iowa to become the number one solar utility in the country[6].

Georgetown didn’t pursue renewable energy for environmental reasons, but simply because it was the best investment for their customers. The 150 megawatts of solar PV and 145 megawatts of wind power will supply as much as double the town’s annual electricity use, ensuring sufficient supply year round even with fluctuations in sunshine and wind, and allow the town to sell the excess into Texas electricity markets. As attractive as the price—which was lower than the town’s current wholesale electricity costs[7]—the solar and wind contracts have zero volatility because they have zero fuel cost, insulating Georgetown electric customers from rising fossil fuel prices.

Self-Reliance not Self-Sufficiency

It’s worth noting that the solar and wind contracts don’t mean that Georgetown will be completely reliant on the sun and wind. Their grid remains interconnected to the rest of the Texas electricity system, so in periods of zero wind and zero sun, the town can still tap into the ERCOT spot market for power. However, the wind and solar resource tend to balance one another. As the city’s press release[8] notes, “This means that wind power can most often fill power demand when the sun isn’t shining.”

A Low Cost Copy?

Could other cities follow suit? If they had the two keys that Georgetown did, almost certainly. ILSR’s analysis suggests that path to 100% renewable energy is surprisingly inexpensive.

Our approach was to analyze the path to 100% renewable energy via wind and solar power alone, for the largest municipal electric utility in each state (i.e. cities with Key #1, and hopefully a timeline to obtain Key #2). The following map shows that 15 of the largest city-owned electric companies (mostly in the Midwest) could contract for 100% renewable energy at 7.5¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh) or less. Another 18 could do so for less than 9¢ per kWh. The final 14 could contract for 100% wind and solar for 10.3¢ per kWh or less. Detailed assumptions and calculations are shown at the bottom of this post.

everyone a georgetown 100pct renewable energy municipal ILSR[9]

The map is pretty clear: Georgetown may be the first municipal utility to procure 100% renewable energy (and not just renewable energy credits), but it won’t be the last. As costs continue to fall for renewable energy, many more cities can make the rapid shift to 100% wind and sun.

Photo credit: Jim Nix[10] via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

This article originally posted at[11]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[12] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[13] update.



The cost of solar and solar resource potential was calculated using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory System Advisor Model, with an installed cost of $2.55/Watt, $20 per kilowatt annual maintenance costs, use of both federal accelerated depreciation and 30% tax credit, financing 100% of the system cost at 8% interest on a 10 year loan, a 5% real discount rate over 25 years, and a 2¢ per kWh margin for the developer.

The cost of wind power was calculated by ILSR assuming an installed cost of $1.63/Watt (source[14]), $49 per kilowatt annual maintenance costs, use of federal accelerated depreciation but no tax credits, financing 100% of the system cost at 8% interest on a 10 year loan, a 6% real discount rate over 20 years, and a 1¢ per kWh margin for the developer. The wind resource was based on a weighted average of Wind Action’s 2011-13 capacity factor analysis where available, LBNL’s Wind Technologies Market Report or an ILSR estimate of 20% capacity factor (used for all states in the Southeast with no current wind power installed).

The reported cost on the map is the weighted average price of power, based on the mix of wind and solar resources.

Renewable Energy Mix

Cities (the largest municipal utility in each state) were assumed to get a minimum of sufficient wind and solar capacity to meet their annual peak energy use, from each technology (e.g. a city with a 150 MW peak use would acquire a minimum of 150 MW of solar and 150 MW of wind power). The capacity of the less expensive technology was then doubled to ensure sufficient annual output to meet the city’s energy needs (based on 2013 retail sales data from the Energy Information Administration). In 6 cities, this figure (for solar) had to be increased further to make sure that 100% of annual energy sales could be met with wind and solar energy production.

For example, Rochester, MN, has a peak energy demand of 279 MW and was assumed to purchase 279 MW of solar PV and 558 MW of wind power capacity, producing 367,000 and 1,600,000 megawatt-hours per year, respectively. The cost of purchased solar (9.3¢) was averaged with the cost of purchased wind power (6.6¢) to get a blended cost of 100% wind and sun of 7.1¢ per kWh.

  1. Tucson, AZ:
  2. Palo Alto’s surge toward carbon neutral electricity:
  3. Austin’s 35% renewable by 2020 goal:
  4. 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by 2050:
  5. expiration of its major supply contract in 2012:
  6. Farmers Electric Cooperative in Iowa to become the number one solar utility in the country:
  7. lower than the town’s current wholesale electricity costs:
  8. press release:
  9. [Image]:
  10. Jim Nix:
  12. Twitter:
  13. Democratic Energy weekly:
  14. source:

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Tale of Comcast Woe

by Lisa Gonzalez | April 9, 2015 12:06 pm

Ideally, working from home allows one to choose the environment where he or she can be most productive. In the case of Seth that was Kitsap County in Washington State. Unfortunately, incompetence on the part of Comcast, CenturyLink, and official broadband maps led Seth down a road of frustration that will ultimately require him to sell his house in order to work from home.

The Consumerist recently reported on Seth’s story, the details of which ring true to many readers who have ever dealt with the cable behemoth. This incident is another example of how the cable giant has managed to retain its spotless record as one of the most hated companies in America.

Seth, a software developer, provides a detailed timeline of his experience[1] on his blog. In his intro:

Late last year we bought a house in Kitsap County, Washington — the first house I’ve ever owned, actually. I work remotely full time as a software developer, so my core concern was having good, solid, fast broadband available. In Kitsap County, that’s pretty much limited to Comcast, so finding a place with Comcast already installed was number one on our priority list.

We found just such a place. It met all of our criteria, and more. It had a lovely secluded view of trees, a nice kitchen, and a great home office with a separate entrance. After we called (twice!) to verify that Comcast was available, we made an offer.

The Consumerist correctly describes the next three months as “Kafkaesque.” Comcast Technicians appear with no notice, do not appear for scheduled appointments, and file mysteriously misplaced “tickets” and “requests.” When technicians did appear as scheduled, they are always surprised by what they saw: no connection to the house, no Comcast box on the dwelling, a home too far away from Comcast infrastructure to be hooked up. Every technician sent to work on the problem appeared with no notes or no prior knowledge of the situation.

It was the typical endless hamster wheel with cruel emotional torture thrown in for sport. At times customer service representatives Seth managed to reach over the phone would build up his hopes, telling him that his requests were in order, progress was being made behind the scenes, that it was only a matter of time before his Internet access was up and running. Then after a period of silence, Seth would call, and he would be told that whatever request he was waiting for was nonexistent, “timed out,” or in one instance had actually been completed.

Seth usually had to be the one to make the call to Comcast for follow up. There was one notable exception, however on February 26th:

Oh, this is fun. I got a call from a generic Comcast call center this morning asking me why I cancelled my latest installation appointment. Insult to injury, they started to up-sell me on all the great things I’d be missing out on if I didn’t reschedule! I just hung up.

In mid-March, Comcast discussed the possibility of building out its network to Seth’s house but he would have to pay for at least a portion of the costs; he was interested. Pre-survey estimates were up to $60,000. A week later, Comcast contacted Seth and told him that they would not do the extension even if Seth paid for the entire thing.

Comcast was not the only provider Seth contacted. When he first learned that Comcast did not connect his home, he contacted CenturyLink. He was told by a customer service tech he would be hooked up right away but the company called him the next day to tell him that CenturyLink would not be serving his needs. They were not adding new customers in his area.

Nevertheless, he was charged more than $100 for service he never could have received. Seth had to jump through hoops to get his “account” zeroed out. CenturyLink’s website showed that they DID serve Seth’s address, reports the Consumerist and, even though they have claimed to have updated the problem, the error remained as of March 23rd.

Official maps created by the state based on data supplied by providers, are grossly incorrect. As a result, Seth’s zip code is supposedly served by a number of providers. While that may be true on paper, it doesn’t do Seth much good. A number of those providers, including Comcast and CenturyLink (as Seth is painfully aware) do not serve his home. Satellite does not cannot the VPN connection he needs due to latency inherent in satellite Internet connections. He is using cellular wireless as a last resort now, but only as a short term solution because it is limited and expensive.

Ironically, Seth’s new home is not far from the Kitsap Public Utility District fiber network. Because state barriers require the Kitsap PUD to operate the network as a wholesale only model, however, Seth cannot hook up for high-speed Internet. He would only be able to connect if a provider chose to use the infrastructure to offer services to him.

Here we have the perfect storm of harmful state barriers, corporate gigantism, and “incumbetence.” From his blog:

I’m devastated. This means we have to sell the house. The house that I bought in December, and have lived in for only two months.

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know if there’s any kind of recourse. I do know that throughout this process, Comcast has lied. I don’t throw that word around lightly or flippantly, I mean it sincerely. They’ve fed me false information from the start, and it’s hurt me very badly.

This whole thing would have been avoided if only Comcast had said, right at the start, that they didn’t serve this address. Just that one thing would have made me strike this house off the list.

I don’t know exactly how much money I’m going to lose when I sell, but it’s going to be substantial. Three months of equity in a house isn’t a lot of money compared to sellers fees, excise taxes, and other moving expenses.

So, good bye dream house. You were the first house I ever owned, I’ll miss you.

But putting all the blame on Comcast ignores the failed public policy that allows Comcast to act like this. Providers like Comcast lobbied legislators and DC to ensure no map could be created that would be useful. The carriers have refused to turn over data at a granular level that would prevent these mistakes from happening. And whether it is the states, the NTIA, or the FCC, they have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on maps that do little more than allow carriers to falsely claim there is no broadband problem in this country.

And we have utterly failed to hold our elected leaders to account for this corrupt system. Something needs to change – but it won’t until people stand up and demand an end to these stories.


  1. detailed timeline of his experience:

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Update on One-Bin Systems in Medina, OH, and Houston, TX

by Neil Seldman | April 8, 2015 5:31 pm

Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) and the Zero Waste Houston coalition have been organizing for two years against a misguided proposal to replace an increasingly successful single-stream recycling program with a dirty MRF, referred to as a ‘one-bin’ system. A stream of support from many groups has aided our efforts across the country that have weighed in on a decision that would likely impact other cities’ recycling and composting goals not just in Texas.

See One Bin posts by Neil Seldman, ILSR[1].

The news account below of the Envision Waste dirty MRF in Medina, Ohio is the latest report on the poor performance of this technology. The system reached a recycling rate of less than 4%.

Local governments should commit to the education and other investment necessary to increase sorting of discards and compost at the source. Communities can rethink, reduce, reuse, compost and recycle as we have seen in scores of cities and counties in the U.S. that have gone beyond 50%, some reaching over 60% by traditional recycling methods. Fast track alternative like dirty MRFs and incinerators merely perpetuate the mindless cycle of wasteful product and toxic byproduct. They also present taxpayers with financial boondoggles.

Most recently, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle found that bidders on the City of Houston’s “One Bin for All” program have raised serious questions about the feasibility and costs of the project even if it would not include expensive incineration technologies such as gasification.

See City’s One Bin proposals raise financial, technology concerns[2] – Houston Chronicle, March 29, 2015

See Ohio county hits mixed-waste processing crossroads[3] – Resource Recycling, April 7, 2015

Mayor Annise Parker, however, says that her administration has not come to a conclusion about whether or not to move forward with a remaining bidder, and she will make that conclusion at some point before she leaves office in November. For now, Zero Waste advocates in the City are celebrating that all neighborhoods are finally enrolled in the existing single-stream recycling program, and they are encouraging Mayor Parker to pass a Zero Waste Plan that would expand composting programs and apartments recycling as part of a strategy to reduce 90% or more of waste from landfills in the next few decades. Austin has a zero waste goal and San Antonio and Dallas also have long-term plans to reach over 60% and 80% diversion respectively in the next few decades.

Note: Information for this article from Melanie Scruggs, Texas Campaign for the Environment[4].

  1. See One Bin posts by Neil Seldman, ILSR:
  2. City’s One Bin proposals raise financial, technology concerns:
  3. Ohio county hits mixed-waste processing crossroads:
  4. Texas Campaign for the Environment:

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How to Maximize the Economic, Environmental and Social Value of E-Scrap: Does EPR Make A Difference?

by Neil Seldman | April 7, 2015 12:52 pm

There are two highly successful non-profit, community based e scrap enterprises operating in Oregon. They have stellar records of efficiency and integrity. They are rivers of wealth for the two cities in which they thrive.

The NextStep[1] in Eugene, OR is a repair and distribution center founded in Lorraine Kerwood’s garage as MacRenewal. By 2002 NextStep was a formal non-profit corporation with many awards and accolades to follow. It now has 37 workers plus 12 volunteers/mentors comprised of regular folks as well as highly skilled technicians and trainers. The organization has trained over 15,000 participants with computer and social skills required for fulfilling jobs and careers.

The key to the operation is access to old but powerful machines generated by local government agencies, businesses, households and institutions and donated to the non-profit. “NextStep works with CEOs and janitors to keep up the flow of repairable inventory,” remarks Kerwood.  “It is these relationships that are the mainstay of our program.”

Since its start up, NextStep has handled over 3.5 million pounds of e scrap.  Repaired products are both sold and donated to low-income individuals, schools and community organizations, creating a closed loop of generators and customers.

Starting in 2000, Kerwood served as the Macintosh refurbisher for FreeGeek in Portland, traveling up the coast once each week to collect Macs, as FreeGeek’s initial focus was LINUX OS installs.  When Mac hardware became available friendly enough to LINUX installs, FreeGeek took on Macs.

FreeGeek[2] operates a similar non-profit entity from a city-block sized facility in Portland. Since 2000, FreeGeek also functions as a community based social enterprise. Donations of computers and related electronic products are dropped off at the main facility or satellite sites. In 2014, FreeGeek handled an estimated 700,000 pounds of e scrap. A staff of 38 workers and an average of 500 volunteers per month process the incoming products. Repaired products are made available for free through grant applications from non-profit organizations. Other repaired products are sold at the main thrift store and on line through EBay. The bulk of sales revenue derive from computers, printers, cables, audiovisual equipment, power strips and monitors. Steel and non-ferrous metals are sold to local scrap dealers. Free Geek must pay to dispose of plastics.

Free Geek, like NextStep, relies on word of mouth and on going relationships with local e scrap generators. Both NextStep and FreeGeek rarely get products through the state’s licensed processors/consolidators. These enterprises shred e scrap for recycling.

The OR e scrap law created in 2006 is a highly regulated e scrap Extended Producer Responsibility Program.  Registered companies collect and process e scrap in association with Original Equipment Manufacturers. Since the EPR law has lead to the centralization of collection with limited access to repairable products, NextStep and FreeGeek probably would not exist if they had not emerged prior to the Oregon EPR law. They had years to develop their network of donor relationships with schools, government agencies, businesses and individuals; as well as a constituency/market for their end products.

Is there a lesson here for states contemplating e scrap EPR programs or states that have them and want to improve efficiency and value added to the local economy? There are excellent models of non-EPR e scrap programs that stimulate local enterprise development and localize value added. California’s advanced deposit system allows for redistribution of funds to collectors and processors, thus building the infrastructure for long term economic growth. (The California container deposit system also builds infrastructure for recycling and supports excellent training programs for young workers.)

What is needed is for EPR and take-back advocates to incorporate local reuse in their policies and programs. A debate on these issues is sorely needed as the shredding of valuable machines for the convenience of Brand Name OEM companies is too high a price to pay when we know what local reuse can accomplish in jobs, skill, environmental, social and economic pay back.

In my home town, Washington, DC, the value added opportunities can provide decent jobs, new small companies and help bring relief to the city’s underclass separated from the American dream by a deep digital divide. Yet, new legislation on e scrap gives control of this socially and economically invaluable resource to the Brand Name computer industry with no concern for keeping this resource local. What DC and all jurisdictions need is some quality control on EPR: How to use the fastest growing part of the waste stream to solve endemic social and economic problems. Recycling of e scrap is not enough! We need policy research to identify a fix for existing EPR e scrap laws and a model for maximum value from e scrap discards. EPR has a role surely. But what is it exactly?

  1. The NextStep:
  2. FreeGeek:

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Freedom to Connect – Long Term Muni Strategies

by Rebecca Toews | April 2, 2015 4:35 pm

If you were not able to attend Freedom to Connect in New York on March 2 – 3[1], you can now view archived video of presentations from Chris and others.

Now that the FCC has made a determination that may change the landscape of Internet access, it is time to consider the future of municipal networks. In this discussion, Chris discusses passive infrastructure, including dark fiber and open access[2]models as a way to encourage competition on the local level. Chris also looks at financing municipal networks in a fashion that takes into account public benefits created by fiber. He suggests steps elected officials can take now that will contribute to long term ubiquitous access in their communities.

You can also watch videos from other presenters including Joanne Hovis, Hannah Sassaman, and Jim Baller at the F2C: Freedom to Connect 2015 Livestream page[3].

Chris’s presentation is posted here and runs just over 20 minutes:


  1. Freedom to Connect in New York on March 2 – 3:
  2. open access:
  3. F2C: Freedom to Connect 2015 Livestream page:

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Why Utilities Are Hating on Their Solar-Producing Customers

by John Farrell | April 1, 2015 9:50 am

I have the privilege of talking to a lot of reporters about rooftop solar energy, and particularly about why utilities seem hell bent on stopping their customers from using their own money to add clean, renewable energy to the electric grid. If this seems confusing to you, too, here’s a quick primer with some key resources.

Utilities Don’t View Customer-Owned Solar Power as a Resource

mn value of solar v cost[1]Read a utility integrated resource plan (their 15-year plan for the electric grid), and you can see an electric utility wax eloquent about a shiny new 100 megawatt power plant that could provide energy during peak energy periods with zero fuel cost. But if instead of a big utility-built power plant we’re talking about 10,000 individual solar arrays on customer rooftops, utilities lose all perspective.

Most utilities see a solar array on a customer rooftop the same as they see an energy efficient refrigerator. It means the customer buys less electricity. In some states, policies called “decoupling” tend to hold utilities harmless to these sales losses in order to encourage more investment in cost-effective energy efficiency. But with solar, utilities tend to ignore the benefits that this energy provides to the electricity system unless someone tells them to account for it.

In Minnesota, for example, the state legislature passed a “value of solar[2]” program that requires the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, to calculate how much solar energy is worth to its grid. In 2014 and 2015, the utility has reported that the value of solar energy is higher than the cost to the utility in buying it from customers via net metering. Other studies have shown similar results, including one in Maine[3], in Missouri[4], and in many other states[5].

Faced with compelling evidence of the value of customer-produced solar power, why haven’t utilities come around?

The Utility Business Model Seems Broken

For most investor-owned (for profit) utilities in particular, this new data can’t be squared with their old business model. In a study by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, researchers found that the ratepayer impact of lots of customer-owned solar is quite small[6], but the larger impact falls on utility shareholders. Solar may mean modest revenue reductions for electric utilities, but by offsetting the need for new, large-scale power plants, solar’s real threat is in choking off the for-profit utility’s source of shareholder returns. The following graphic from the report shows the impact of distributed solar on two hypothetical utilities’ shareholders—return on equity (ROE) and earnings—and also on retail electric rates—ordinary ratepayers.

solar impact on utility ROE earnings rates[7]

In short, a utility that’s spent the past several decades making money by selling more electricity and building new infrastructure doesn’t look favorably on a competitor.

Municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives don’t have this dissonance between shareholders and customers, but the notion of customer-provided power as a resource is often just as shocking.

It Seems Easier to Fight Than Innovate

In a competitive business it would seem mad to fight your own customers, but most utilities aren’t in competition (even in states where there is competition in selling electricity to ultimate customers, the ownership of the distribution grid remains a monopoly). That means there are only a few prominent examples of utilities—such as Green Mountain Power[8] and Farmers Electric Cooperative[9]—working to change yesterday’s business model to accommodate today’s technology.

For the rest of electric utilities, they’ve largely chosen to fight their customers rather than accommodate the rise of distributed, customer-owned renewable energy. But that choice is because while they see distributed renewable energy as an opportunity, most have no idea how to make a business around it[10].

In Wisconsin, electric utilities have shifted more of the monthly bill onto fixed charges, reducing the incentive for their customers to save energy with solar (or any other manner). In Arizona, utilities are slapping fees on solar energy producers, to recoup their lost revenue. In over half of U.S. states (shown below in red), utilities have introduced legislative or regulatory proceedings to fight their customers over solar energy[11].

freedom to generate under fire ILSR 2015-0325[12]

The state-by-state battles are part of a coordinated effort by utility executives to address what they see as “a serious, long-term threat to the survival of traditional electricity providers[13].”

So far, utilities have lost more than they’ve won, but even in winning individual battles utilities may still lose the war because their “victories” in containing customer generated solar power are temporary props to an electricity system that is increasingly archaic.

The Electricity System is Fundamentally Changing

It’s easy to pick on electric companies for overlooking the value of their customer’s energy (and for lashing out with retrograde policies), but it’s not entirely their fault. The 100-year-old rules of the electricity system—written by legislatures and governed by public regulatory commissions—granted most electric companies a monopoly over their area of the electric grid. Even as some states introduced competition in selling power to ultimate customers, utilities maintain over the distribution poles and wires that bring power to homes and businesses (and thus much of the power). This monopoly made sense in the 20th century to raise capital for large-scale, low-cost power generation. It worked, giving us reliable and affordable electricity (at any environmental price). It gave utilities comfortable, reliable returns on their investments from regulators at Public Utilities Commissions.

In an era of incremental change where stability was prized over innovation, this monopoly was largely in the public interest.

No more[14].

Consider the difference between a 20th century and 21st century electricity system. In the 20th century, power was generated in large-scale power plants at a distance from population centers, sent by large transmission lines to cities, and managed in a centralized, top-down fashion by a monopoly electric company. There was no viable alternative to this model.

Today, we can generate power on rooftops or farm fields, manage it in real-time with smart thermostats or appliances, and control it remotely with smartphone apps and automation software. In this environment, do we need a traditional, top-down electric utility?

Most utilities won’t change by themselves, however. The inertia and cultural stagnation of monopoly make them much better at playing defense than offense. That has regulators in at least one state, New York, saying “no.”

The Reforming the Energy Vision[15] process just released its first orders, and among them the New York regulators are telling utilities that they will no longer own and operate distributed renewable energy resources. It’s the first step toward flattening the electricity system, from a one-way, top-down grid to a massively networked and democratized[16] energy delivery marketplace. Similar processes are underway in Washington, Minnesota[17], and other states.

Electric Utilities Use Enormous Power to Resist

Imagine how typewriter companies felt upon the introduction of personal computers, how landline phone companies felt a decade ago. Electric utility executives are in a similar position, locked in an outdated paradigm and without a strategy for reaching a different future.

The key difference is that electric companies wield enormous market and political power over their system. They have publicly-sanctioned monopolies, and huge streams of monopoly-shielded revenue they use to hire lobbyists and lawyers to dominate state legislatures and utility commissions. Open Secrets tracks electric utility lobbying at the federal level and reports that utilities collectively spent $121 million on lobbying Congress in 2014[18], and an additional $16.5 million in contributions to legislators. Lobbying is even more intense at the state level, where most regulation takes place. For example, Florida’s four largest utilities collectively employ one lobbyist for every two legislators[19] in that state.

In nearly every fight to align the electricity system with the technological and economic opportunity—energy efficiency, renewable energy, net metering—utilities have pitted their resources squarely against progress.

Get to the Root Cause

The best analogy for today’s battle for the electricity system might be the AT&T telephone monopoly. In the early years, users couldn’t even connect third party devices to the telephone network and AT&T could wield its monopoly power to quash market or political competition. In the end, the government rightly recognized that breaking up the monopoly and introducing competition (for long distance service, at least) was the only way to reduce AT&T’s economic and political power.

Electric utilities are right that distributed renewable energy like rooftop solar threatens their business model. But that model is increasingly out of step with the interests of the modern electricity customer, from energy efficiency to clean energy to energy management. States have papered over the inconsistencies with policies mandating renewable energy and energy efficiency—the utility leaders in renewable energy and energy efficiency almost all hail from states with the best policies[20]—but only at great political cost and over the strident objection of utility companies.

The root cause of the battle between utilities and their (captive) customers is the utility monopoly. And the best hope for a democratic energy system is to smash it.


Photo credit: Mike Fleming[21] via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 license)

This article originally posted at[22]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[23] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[24] update.

  1. [Image]:
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  17. Washington, Minnesota:
  18. utilities collectively spent $121 million on lobbying Congress in 2014:
  19. one lobbyist for every two legislators:
  20. states with the best policies:
  21. Mike Fleming:
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  24. Democratic Energy weekly:

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The Politics of the NCAA Sweet Sixteen

by David Morris | March 25, 2015 10:48 am

When television cameras zoomed in on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback in the middle of the Kansas-Wichita State NCAA basketball game a thunderous chorus of boos broke out. Viewers gained a rare glimpse of the politics behind March Madness. The announcers pointedly ignored the boos.

Viewers might have been better served if the announcers had offered some context for the crowd’s hostility. Both the University of Kansas and Wichita State are public universities. Brownback and the Republican dominated legislature have savaged state university budgets, resulting in rising tuition and more burdensome student debt.

In fact, twelve of the Sweet Sixteen teams are state universities. (Three are Catholic schools. Duke is the only non-religious private school.) Eleven play in states totally controlled by Republicans. (UCLA is the only team in a totally blue state.) In virtually all of these state spending on state universities has been slashed. Between 2008 and 2014 per capita state spending for state universities, adjusted for inflation, has shrunk[1] by more than 40 percent in Arizona, almost 30 percent in Michigan, about 25 percent in Utah and Wisconsin. And in 2015, even though their state economies have significantly improved, many red states are seeking to further punish their state universities. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, for example, has just proposed[2] a budget that would decrease spending on public universities by $300 million over the next two years, the steepest reduction in state history.

The largely student crowds at NCAA games may also be upset that their states justify cutting spending on state universities in order to reduce state deficits when the deficits have been caused almost entirely by tax reductions that overwhelmingly favor the wealthy. Since taking office in 2011, Walker has steered[3] over $2 billion in tax cuts through the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature. By one estimate[4] the state of Kansas lost $803 million in 2014 because of 2012 tax cuts and the cumulative revenue loss will exceed $5 billion by 2019.

While the vast majority of NCAA teams in the Sweet Sixteen play in red states, almost all play in blue cities: Chapel Hill, Durham, Lexington, Louisville, Madison, Tucson, Lansing, Wichita, South Bend, Norman. And many of them are blue in large part because of how their students and recent graduates vote. Responding to the needs of their constituents, blue city councils have tried to lift their income, sometimes by increasing the local minimum wage. But when they try, red state legislatures often step in and strip them of their authority to do so.

In 2007, when Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin raised the local minimum wage, the legislature passed a bill to preempt its right to do so but the effort failed when Democratic Governor Jim Doyle vetoed the bill. In 2011, however, Republican Governor Walker signed a bill abolishing any Wisconsin city from enacting a local minimum wage higher than the state’s. That bill became a template used by more than a dozen other red states, most recently Oklahoma, to enact their own preemption statutes.

For the next week, we can concentrate on basketball and marvel at the remarkable athletes playing their hearts out and set politics aside. But perhaps, maybe during the commercials, we can reflect on the fact that the vast majority of these games are being played by teams from public universities in states whose governments are hostile to public universities and whose policies increase the already considerable financial burden on the students at these universities.









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Listen: Can an Old Utility (dog) Learn New Tricks?

by John Farrell | March 16, 2015 10:29 am

Arnie Arnesen interviewed ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell[1] on WNHN’s The Attitude last week, seeking an answer to this question: can we expect electric utilities to embrace the energy sources of the future, like solar?

Electric Utilities Play by the (Old) Rules

Arnie and John discussed the hesitance of utilities to embrace innovation and new, clean technology. In many states, utilities are fighting back against clean, local energy[2] by fighting rules like net metering and proposing taxes and fees on solar producers.

As Arnie says, “Whenever you talk solar, for some reason you find John Farrell”


John suggested that we can’t expect better if the rules of the system remain mired in the 20th century.

Utilities have been given monopolies and the charge of delivering reliable, affordable power. They’ve done that job effectively, to the exclusion of anything else, and the decades of inertia make it hard for utilities to change.

John shared an anecdote from his recent trip to Tucson, where a utility employee noted that their conservative institution doesn’t innovate, doesn’t do “beta tests.” The utility in question gets 80% of its electricity from coal, despite being in the sunniest climate in the United States.

The utilities are reluctant to change because the old rules meant they made money from the old habits: selling more energy and building more (dirty) power plants. But what many utilities don’t realize is that change isn’t optional, because the old way can’t be profitable anymore.

What’s the New System?

Electric utilities are used to having centralized control over the grid system, but it’s a monopoly that no longer makes sense[4]. We no longer need to concentrate capital to build power plants because they can be built on rooftops and parking lots and open fields wherever there’s sun and wind. But we do need a facilitator to make sure that the grid infrastructure—the valuable network connecting all of these energy producers—can allow electric customers to transact with each other (instead of the utility).

It’s sometimes called “energy democracy[5].”

How do we Change the Rules?

Utilities will have to operate under new rules to move from centralized utility control to energy democracy. These rules will get them out of the business of selling electricity or building power plants and into the business of operating a public network for electricity system participants to transact with each other: a market.

Several states are already piloting these concepts, from Maine to California to New York. The basic premise is that the utility monopoly must be broken up, but primarily its monopoly over the distribution system—the network of poles and wires serving our neighborhoods. It’s on this network that innovation will be unleashed by customers with rooftop solar, electric vehicles, energy efficiency, and energy storage. But only if the electric utility is out of the way.

This article originally posted at[6]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[7] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[8] update.

  1. Arnie Arnesen interviewed ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell:
  2. utilities are fighting back against clean, local energy:
  4. it’s a monopoly that no longer makes sense:
  5. energy democracy:
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  8. Democratic Energy weekly:

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Key Passages and Arguments From The FCC Decision to Remove Barriers to Municipal Networks in TN and NC

by Rebecca Toews | March 13, 2015 3:16 pm


CONTACT: Rebecca Toews,[1],



Key Passages and Arguments From The FCC Decision to Remove Barriers to Municipal Networks in TN and NC

The Federal Communications Commission has released the order that allows Chattanooga and Wilson, as well as many other cities in North Carolina and Tennessee, to build, expand, and partner for improved Internet access.

This decision is not the end of the fight. We expect appeals and petitions from other cities to be filed, which follow Chattanooga and Wilson’s lead. Because of this, we isolated some of the key arguments and passages in a tip sheet below.

While the ruling extends only to communities in Tennessee and North Carolina, it stands to benefit communities all over the nation that want to reap the benefits of high-quality Internet connections at lower costs by overturning laws that create barriers to Internet networks. In fact, the order offers many clues as to how this precedent may impact restrictions in other states.

“The FCC’s order is a tremendous step forward to enabling better Internet access in North Carolina, Tennessee, and ultimately the whole country,” said Chris Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “As an organization that cares deeply about a proper balance of power, we believe this decision represents an appropriate tradeoff between local, state, and federal authority.”


Summarizing the Decision

The FCC has found that it has the authority to remove aspects of Tennessee and North Carolina law that limit local authority to build or expand Internet networks. In short, states retain the authority to restrict municipalities from offering service at all. However, if states allow local governments to offer services, then the FCC has the power to determine whether any limitations on how they do it are a barrier to the deployment of advanced telecommunications services per its authority in section 706 of the Telecommunications Act.

The FCC has removed a restriction in Tennessee law that prevented municipalities with fiber networks from expanding to serve their neighbors, per a petition from Chattanooga.

In North Carolina, the FCC has removed multiple aspects of a 2011 law, HB 129, that effectively outlawed municipal networks by presenting local governments with a thicket of red tape, including territorial restrictions on existing networks. The city of Wilson had petitioned the FCC for this intervention.


Key Points in the FCC Decision to Remove Barriers to Local Choice (each bullet starts with the paragraph number from the order):

Read Full FCC Decision Here[2]


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Can a Single Union Save the Post Office?

by David Morris | March 12, 2015 3:50 pm

Let’s begin with the bad news. The U.S. Post Office, the oldest, most respected and ubiquitous of all public institutions is fast disappearing. In recent years management has shuttered half the nation’s mail processing plants and put 10 percent of all local post offices up for sale. A third of all post offices, most of them in rural areas, have had their hours slashed. Hundreds of full time, highly experienced postmasters knowledgeable about the people and the communities they serve have been dumped unceremoniously, often replaced by part timers. Ever larger portions of traditional post office operations— trucking, mail processing and mail handling– have been privatized. Close to 200,000 middle class jobs have disappeared.

Since 2012 the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has lowered service standards three times, most recently in January when in preparation for closing an additional 82 mail processing plants it announced the end of one day delivery of local first class mail and an additional 1-2 days for all mail. Subscribers to Netflix’s DVD delivery service may soon discover the cost effectiveness of a monthly subscription has been cut in half because the number of DVD’s they receive in a month has been cut in half.

The Postal Service, we are told, has fallen so deeply into debt (more on this in a moment) that it has exhausted its borrowing capacity. There’s no cash left. It’s been challenging to invest in capital projects. Post offices are in disrepair. Trucks are out of date.

Now for the good news. On November 12, 2013 a slate of insurgents won seven of nine national offices at the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). What? Can the election of new officers in a single union, even one with over 200,000 members possibly save the post office? Certainly not if they try to do it singlehandedly but there’s a chance, just a chance they could turn the tide if they build an effective national movement. And that’s what they’re trying to do.

The APWU Strategy

The APWU’s new officers are unusually experienced and talented organizers. After leading the Greater Greensboro Area Local for 12 years and co-founding the Greensboro Chapter of Jobs with Justice, President Mark Dimondstein was appointed APWU’s National Lead Field Organizer in 2000 in a new campaign to organize workers in privatized mail trucking and processing operations. That afforded him important experience in the rough and tumble world of the private sector where workers have the legal right to strike (post office workers can’t) and corporations have the legal right to do almost anything they want to thwart union organizers. The campaign had many susccesses but prolonged strikes against several companies eventually exhausted the union’s strike fund and its national leadership refused repeated requests by Dimondstein and others to replenish it,

Other new officers include Political Director John Marcotte who organized a local coalition that stopped the consolidation of his Michigan plant and Executive Vice President Debby Szeredy who led her Mid-Hudson local in fighting their plant closure. Both she and the new Clerk Craft Director Clint Burelson also participated in a hunger strike in 2012.

The activist stance of these new leaders is evident in the tactics they embrace. Dimondstein insists[1], “We’re not afraid of the streets. We’re not in the streets enough. We need to picket, march, sit-in–not leave it to lobbying or one-on-one negotiations.” He often pointedly praises the actions of postal workers who 55 years ago this March took their future into their own hands by defying union leaders and staging an illegal strike against low pay and benefits and poor working conditions. (more…)[2]

  1. insists:,12,3200,--The-American-Postal-Workers-Union-Elects-a-New-Leadership-.htm
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Model Recycling Communities: Lane County, OR, Pop. 350,000

by Neil Seldman | March 9, 2015 4:22 pm

There is no one best way for communities to recycle. San Francisco has a highly successful program under an exclusive franchise system. Across the Bay, Berkeley has an equally successful program under a highly decentralized system based on for-profit, non-profit and government agency operations. One of the main reason why recycling grew so fast from the 1970s on, was that cities and counties learned from each other as they implemented their own unique systems. So today we have a wide variety of local recycling models.

Lane County, OR, is an interesting model for a number of reasons. Lane County is one of the only counties in Oregon that does not franchise, license or otherwise regulate garbage collection. Yet the community reached an impressive recovery rate of 61.5% in 2012. The state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) confirms that recycling and composting achieved 55.5% recovery, while the County’s backyard compost-at-home, repair and reuse and source reduction programs each earned 2% toward the total recovery rate. The rate declined to 56.9% in 2013 (see note below); recycling and composting achieved 50.9% and Lane County’s backyard composting, repair and reuse and waste prevention programs each earned 2% more as a DEQ credit toward the total recovery rate.

Residents and businesses in the County may choose among one or more private haulers each of which must provide recycling services only inside the urban growth boundaries of any city of over 4,000 and additional services in cities over 10,000. The system is overseen by city and county governments per state statutes and rules.  The Lane County Department of Public Works, Division of Waste Management operates 16 rural transfer stations to fill in the gaps in lieu of a franchise, license or other regulatory program. Lane County’s comprehensive education and outreach includes a Master Recycler Program (much like popular Master Gardener programs). This as well as their website,[1] presents a very rich and layered approach directing residents and businesses to reuse and repair shops to self-haul and transfer station recycling, with many stops in between.

The information can help cities and counties that are early in their recycling program development as well as experienced recycling jurisdictions looking for novel approaches to common challenges and opportunities.

Here are key websites for more about Lane County, OR’s broad range of programs: [2][1]

For additional information contact: Sarah Grimm, Lane County Recycling Coordinator at (541) 682-4339.

NOTE:  There is no clear reason for the decline from 2012 to 2013. Most likely factors are: continued market insecurities due to China’s Green Fence, fewer buyers of wood waste (low cost and low emissions of natural gas causing the market to fall out), voluntary reporting by scrap metal industry, accounting for contamination in co-mingled collections, and adjustment of local data to state-wide data.

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March 11th Waste to Wealth Event: Bringing Recycling and Composting Jobs to Baltimore

by Neil Seldman | March 6, 2015 5:26 am

The Waste to Wealth = Green Jobs event (free to attend) is being held to present the potential for developing small minority-owned companies in the reuse, recycling and composting sectors in the Baltimore area. ILSR is co-sponsoring this event.

Wed, March 11, 2015; 7pm–9pm
Baltimore City Community College
2901 Liberty Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21215 (map[1])

Expert Panel Includes:

* Adrienne Houel – Executive Director, Park City Green, operator of a mattress recycling plant in Bridgeport, CT
* Shabaaz Jackson – Principal, Greenway, composting designer and operator, Poughkeepsie, NY
* Mark Foster – Director, Second Chance, building deconstruction, resale, Baltimore, MD
* Sidney Wilson, Jr. – President, DoxicomGlobal, recycling hard to recycle materials, Jackson, TN
* Justen Garrity, Founder, Veteran Compost, Aberdeen, MD

The Waste to Wealth event is being held to present residents and city leaders to the potential for developing small minority-owned companies in the reuse, recycling and composting sectors. Businesses such as these are popping up all over the U.S., including many owned and operated by minority business people and community development companies.

Some of these businesses are already operating in and around Baltimore. Others would like to create joint ventures with local community development corporations and social service agencies.

Other mid-sized manufacturing firms want to locate in Baltimore, taking advantage of acres of idle industrially zoned land. One such company is Greys Paper Company of Edmonton, Canada. This company produces 100% recycled high grade paper stationery, copy paper, envelopes on a five acre site that needs 120 workers. The company has asked the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to suggest sites for several plants to be built in the U.S. in the next few years. Baltimore is an ideal site given the availability of land and location near Washington, DC – the high grade paper capital of the world. City officials in charge of economic development should attend this event to find out more.

The combination of small companies and mid-sized manufacturing based on materials and used products that can be recovered from the Baltimore waste stream can lead to over 1,000 new jobs in the city, each paying a minimum of $14/hour, some with health insurance benefits.

Information about these companies will be presented by their operators and representatives at this Baltimore Zero Waste panel and networking event.

For more information, contact Robin at 301-836-1405 or email[2].

More info here:[3]

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The Other FCC Decision

by David Morris | March 5, 2015 10:05 am

On February 26th the Federal Communications Commission issued two decisions. One concerned net neutrality, the other municipal broadband. The first garnered by far the most attention, as it should. Net neutrality affects everyone and locks down a fundamental principle for Internet access.

But as another presidential campaign looms the FCC decision on municipally owned broadband may offer more fertile ground for a vigorous political debate on the role of government and the scale of governance.

The decision arose from a petition to the FCC by Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina asking it to overturn state laws that prevent them from extending their highly successful publicly owned networks to surrounding communities eager to connect. The FCC’s decision affects just those two states’ laws but will undoubtedly become a precedent to evaluate most of the other 17 states’ restrictions on municipal broadband.

Republicans grumbled at the net neutrality decision but they positively shrieked their dismay when the FCC ruled in favor of local authority. Within hours of the vote Republicans introduced a bill stripping the FCC of its authority to do so. A year ago Republicans tacked on an amendment to another bill that would have prevented the FCC from even taking up the issue. That amendment passed the House. Republicans voted[1] 221-4 in favor. It died in the Senate.

The Economic Argument: Protecting Shareholders and Taxpayers

Republicans marshal both economic and political arguments in their case against public networks. The economic argument is simply put: By pre-empting local authority Republicans are protecting shareholders from unfair competition and taxpayers from unwise investments by local governments.

That municipal telecommunications networks have unfair advantages is a well-worn trope of telecom giants and Republicans. On the face of it, the proposition is preposterous. Does anyone truly believe that Salisbury, North Carolina whose public network at the time North Carolina passed its law had only 1,000 customers and whose municipal budget was only $34 million could have a competitive advantage over Time Warner, with 14 million customers and annual revenues of $18 billion?  The compensation Time Warner paid[2] its CEO Jeffrey Bewkes for 2013 exceeded the cost[3] of Salisbury building its entire network.


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Blackburn and Tillis Introduce Bill Aimed to Undo FCC Decision to Restore Local Authority

by Lisa Gonzalez | March 2, 2015 10:53 am

Last week, the FCC made history[1] when it chose to restore local telecommunications authority by nullifying state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina. Waiting in the wings were Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Senator Thom Tillis from Tennessee and North Carolina respectively, with their legislation to cut off the FCC at the knees. [A PDF of the draft legislation[2] is available online.]

Readers will remember Blackburn from last year[3]. She introduced a similar measure in the form of an amendment to an appropriations bill. Blackburn has repeatedly attributed her attempts to block local authority to her mission to preserve the rights of states. A Broadcasting and Cable article quoted her[4]:



“The FCC’s decision to grant the petitions of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina is a troubling power grab,” Blackburn said. “States are sovereign entities that have Constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon. They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures.”

Thom Tillis, the other half of this Dystopian Duo, released a statement[5] just hours after the FCC decision:

“Representative Blackburn and I recognize the need for Congress to step in and take action to keep unelected bureaucrats from acting contrary to the expressed will of the American people